(CNSNews.com) – North Korea, Venezuela and Chad have been added to a handful of countries whose citizens face varying restrictions on visiting the United States under a proclamation issued by President Trump on Sunday, as the main provisions of a previous temporary ban were set to expire.
At the same time, Sudan has been removed from the earlier list. The new set of countries comprises Syria, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Libya – all previously listed – plus North Korea, Chad and Venezuela.
“Making America Safe is my number one priority,” Trump tweeted after the proclamation was released. “We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet.”
The original countries were singled out early this year, according to the administration, because they were deemed to be of terrorist concern (and had in fact been identified as such by the Obama administration in 2015-16). Despite that, critics were quick to label the move a “Muslim ban,” not least of all because of Trump’s own statements during his presidential campaign.
Neither Venezuela nor North Korea are Islamic countries. Chad’s population is around 52 percent Muslim, 44 percent Christian.
Still, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), in its reaction to Sunday’s proclamation described it as the “latest iteration of the discriminatory and unconstitutional Muslim ban.”
CAIR’s senior litigation attorney Gadeir Abbas called the proclamation Trump’s “Muslim ban 3.0.”
From Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications in the Obama administration, came a different take. “The inclusion of Venezuela and North Korea shows this was never about terrorism at all and is just politics,” he tweeted.
(In fact, Republican lawmakers and others have called for years for North Korea’s return to the list of state-sponsors of terror from which it was removed in 2008, and to add Venezuela, which has long been deemed a terrorist safe haven.)
Trump’s “Presidential Proclamation on Enhanced National Security Measures” takes into account differences among the eight countries’ levels of cooperation with efforts by the U.S. government to determine whether their nationals pose a security risk to the U.S.
The restrictions themselves also vary. In Venezuela’s case, for instance, a restriction on non-immigrant tourist and business visits applies only to officials and family members of officials from government agencies involved in screening and vetting procedures, such as the foreign and justice ministries and intelligence services.
Somalia is described as a special case, given the lack of the government’s territorial control and poor record-keeping. While Somali nationals may not enter the U.S. as immigrants, their entry as non-immigrants is not prohibited, although it is subject to additional scrutiny.
The restrictions are tightest for North Korea and Syria, whose nationals will not be allowed to enter the U.S. either as immigrants or non-immigrants.
That’s because North Korea was found not to be cooperating with the U.S. “in any respect” while also failing to satisfy information-sharing requirements.
Syria, the president said, “regularly” fails to cooperate, is a source of significant terror threats, and is a designated state-sponsor of terrorism.
Iranian, Libyan, Chadian and Yemeni nationals will not be allowed entry as immigrants, but not all categories of non-immigrant entry visas are blocked for the four countries.
Non-immigrant entry on business and tourist visas is suspended for nationals of Libya, Chad and Yemen.
In Iran’s case, all non-immigrant visa categories are affected, except for student and exchange visas, although enhanced screening and vetting will be required.
Engagement ‘yielded significant improvements’
In the proclamation, Trump outlined the process undertaken by the administration, beginning with a review in which the Homeland Security Secretary – Elaine Duke is currently acting secretary – developed a “baseline” for the type of information foreign governments would have to provide for the U.S. to be able to confirm both the identities of, and potential security risk posed by, people wanting to enter the U.S.
The three baseline criteria are “identity management” (information required from foreign government to determine whether those wanting to travel to the U.S. “are who they claim to be”); security and public safety threat information (for example, whether a country provides data on applicants’ suspected or known terrorist or criminal history); and national security factors (including whether a country is a terrorist safe haven.)
Every country was then evaluated against the baseline requirements. Sixteen were identified as “inadequate” and another 31 as “at risk” of becoming so.
Over a 50-day engagement period, the State Department encouraged all countries to improve their performance, a process which the proclamation said “yielded significant improvements in many countries.”
At the end, seven countries were found still to have “inadequate” identity management protocols and risk factors – the eight listed above with the exception of Somalia, where special conditions were found to be present.
One other country, Iraq, was also found to be wanting, but Duke recommended that the restrictions were not warranted in its case, citing among other things the close cooperative bilateral relationship, the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq, and its commitment to the fight against ISIS. She did say Iraqi nationals wanting to enter the U.S. should be subject to additional scrutiny.
Trump said in making his final country-specific decisions he considered factors including each country’s capacity and willingness to be cooperative, risk factors such as a significant terrorist presence, and foreign policy, national security, and counterterrorism goals.
Overall, the proclamation allows for consideration of waivers on a case-by-case basis, and includes exceptions for lawful permanent residents of the U.S. and holders of dual nationality traveling on the passport of the non-designated country.
Valid visas will not be revoked as a result of the proclamation.
The restrictions took effect immediately – 3 PM eastern time on Sunday – for those who were already subject to entry restrictions under Trump’s March 6 executive order that expired on Sunday, but will only take effect on October 18 for the rest.