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VOL. 132 | NO. 28 | Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Workplace Implications of Trump’s Immigration Ban


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David Jones

On Jan. 30, President Trump signed a controversial executive order focusing on immigration issues. Titled “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Entry into the United States by Foreign Nationals,” the order placed an immediate freeze on all entry for individuals from Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Sudan for at least 90 days. 

Citizens from these seven countries already go through a more complex vetting process when obtaining visas, gaining refugee status or immigrating to the U.S. Additional countries may be added in the future.

The executive order also halts all refugee admission processing for at least 120 days, as well as the entry of Syrian refugees for the foreseeable future. So far, the Trump administration has provided inconsistent information on whether lawful permanent residents will be covered by the ban, although the Department of Homeland Security has stated it will admit permanent residents on a case-by-case basis and subject them to a thorough security review. 

In addition, the order suspends the Visa Interview Waiver Program, which allowed consular officers to waive the interview requirement for applicants seeking to renew non-immigrant visas within 12 months of initial expiration.

Not surprisingly, this executive order is having a widespread, detrimental impact on the U.S. business sector, particularly in industries such as health care, technology, engineering and science that regularly recruit and employ talent from abroad. Although the executive order is presently enjoined, there still continues to be a great deal of uncertainty among employers. 

How will the immigration ban impact businesses?

The immediate impact to businesses in the Memphis area, particularly those in the health care and IT industries, is the loss of employees who are unable to return to work either because they were not allowed to enter the U.S. or have had their visas canceled. While initial reports indicated that some 100,000 visas were canceled, current estimates place the number below 60,000. 

The executive order also will affect decision-making regarding international business travel. It is uncertain whether the current injunction will remain in place or what additional actions the Trump administration may take in the future. Anyone from a predominantly Muslim country could potentially be banned from entering the U.S., so traveling is too risky. 

Additionally, although U.S. citizens who travel to those countries are not banned from re-entry to the U.S., it is conceivable they could nevertheless face difficulties and reciprocal treatment when traveling to one of the seven banned countries. Iran, for example, has already stated that it will ban U.S. citizens. 

Lastly, given the Visa Interview Waiver Program’s suspension, visa wait times throughout the world are likely to increase, leading to delays for individuals trying to renew their visas. These delays need to be taken into account when planning international business travel.

What steps can employers take to protect affected workers?

Several courts have entered injunctions against the executive order, and one federal judge in Seattle enjoined the entire order. Employers should take advantage of this to help get employees who are affected by the ban back into the U.S. They should also be aware that employees may encounter issues attempting to board planes overseas, where airlines may not understand the current status of the executive order. 

In addition, employees may face heightened scrutiny when entering the U.S., so employers should prepare workers to answer any questions about their visa, reasons for coming to the U.S. and their travel abroad. It is advisable for employment visa holders to bring a proof of employment as well. Employers should also be aware of employees’ specific travel plans so they can be alerted to any problems that may arise.

Individuals from the seven countries should not leave the U.S. until there is more certainty about what lies ahead for the ban. Those from other predominantly Muslim countries should weigh the risk of traveling outside the U.S. and avoid international travel unless it is a case of emergency. 

Individuals needing to obtain visa stamps should be prepared for the possibility that there could be a delay of several weeks in getting the visa issued and plan travel accordingly. 

Additionally, visa holders should be careful to document that they are, and will be, in compliance with their visas. For work visa holders, this means carrying copies of their applications, pay records and letters from employers at all times.

Editor’s note: Jones is presenting a seminar titled “What President Trump’s Immigration Ban Means for You” on Friday, Feb. 10. Click here for more information.

Attorney David Jones is a partner in Fisher Phillips’ Memphis office.

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