Expats, particularly those with dual citizenship, have been thrown into confusion after the new American President Donald Trump announced a ban on people with certain passports entering the country and refugees from certain countries.
Over the weekend valid visa holders and legal residents with green cards have been prevented from entering the United States after Trump signed an executive order banning those with passports from seven mainly Muslim countries for 90 days.
It also emerged that those with dual citizenship of these countries, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, might also be affected, although the situation regarding people with dual passports is still unclear. The status of those born in these countries who now have citizenship of a non-banned state was also unclear.
The situation could affect tens of thousands of doctors, students, researchers, engineers and IT specialists employed by global companies in the US and at universities and hospitals as well as top companies in Silicon Valley.
Some Governments, such as the UK, have obtained clarification that its citizens, even if born in one of the banned countries, will be allowed entry but others have not. One high profile example was British Olympic gold medal athlete Sir Mo Farah who was born in Somalia. He is currently training in Ethiopia but his wife and children live in the US and he voiced concerns about being able to get back into the country where his family lives.
On Monday the Department of Homeland Security confirmed the order would not be varied. ‘The President’s Executive Orders remain in place. Prohibited travel will remain prohibited and the US Government retains its right to revoke visas at any time if required for national security or public safety. No foreign national in a foreign land, without ties to the United States, has any unfettered right to demand entry into the United States or to demand immigration benefits in the United States,’ it said in a statement.
There is currently confusion at US airports and ports. People arriving back from holiday and expats visiting family abroad face questioning and some have been detained, others have not been allowed to board planes bound for the US.
Airlines are totally confused with some adopting more strict interpretations of the order than others. One couple on holiday in South America who live in the UK were not allowed to board their flight to Glasgow because there were transiting through New York. They were left stranded without money for another flight that did not go via the US but have now raised enough money to get home. Australian airline Qantas, however, has offered travellers caught up in the US ban full refunds.
In the US, expats, even those with green cards, are being advised not to leave if they think they could be affected by the new rules as they risk being separated from their families. Immigration lawyers and employers suggest that hundreds of thousands of green card holders could be affected.
While courts in New York and Virginia have ordered stays on the deportation of people with valid visas for the US, this only affects those already caught up in the confusion and not those who have yet to travel.
Firms with expat employees are also trying to clarify the situation. Google, for example, which employs nearly 200 foreigners who could be affected has consulted lawyers. Universities, top medical hospitals and high tech companies also employ a large number of expats from the banned countries, many of whom could be either stranded abroad or unable to return to their families in the US.