On January 27, 2017 President Trump signed an Executive Order (“EO”) titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”.  Given the diverse composition of colleges and universities, which includes faculty, staff and students, this EO significantly impacts the higher education community.  Specifically, the EO suspends the entire US refugee admission system for 120 days and the Syrian refugee program indefinitely.  In addition, the EO suspends the entry of immigrants and non-immigrants from certain designated countries of concern for an initial period of 90 days.  It should be noted that after 90 days, travel is not automatically reinstated for foreign nationals from these countries of concern.  Instead, the EO has mandated that the United States Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) be required to report whether countries have provided information “needed…for the adjudication of any…benefit under the INA…to determine that the individual seeking the benefit is who the individual claims to be and is not a security or public-safety threat.”  If a country refuses to provide the requested information regarding its nationals to enable the United States to adjudicate visas, admissions or other benefits provided under the INA, the EO states that foreign nationals from that country will be prohibited from entering the United States until compliance has been achieved.  The EO currently applies to individuals from seven designated countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

There has been significant confusion regarding the scope and implementation of the EO’s travel ban. Currently, the travel ban appears to include and apply to the following groups of individuals: non-immigrant visa holders, immigrant visa holders, refugees, derivative asylees, Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), etc.  Moreover, any foreign national holding a passport from one of the seven designated countries is considered to be from the designated country.  Accordingly, dual citizens who hold passports issued by both a designated country and non-designated country may also be subject to the travel ban.  Further adding to the confusion regarding the scope of this EO, the DHS Secretary John Kelly issued a clarification statement on January 29, 2017 which noted that status as a lawful U.S. permanent resident (a.k.a. “green card holder”) “will be a dispositive factor” used in the case-by-case analysis for determining re-entry and/or admission into the United States.

Based on the information set forth in the EO, colleges and universities would be well-served to advise students, faculty and staff who are from any of these seven designated countries to refrain from traveling outside of the United States until further notice. While the EO has specifically identified seven countries of concern, there is speculation that this list may evolve and expand in the future.  Therefore, foreign nationals that hold immigrant and/or non-immigrant visas and who are presently in the United States from other Middle Eastern countries should strongly consider avoiding any international travel, where possible, until additional administrative and judicial guidance has been released.

To date, legal challenges have been filed in federal courts throughout the United States on constitutional grounds. We anticipate that additional lawsuits by various stakeholders will be pursued in the coming days and weeks. Thus far, courts in New York, Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington have granted stays of removal and/or temporary orders restraining the enforcement of the EO.  While each court decision is slightly different, and does not overrule or invalidate the EO on its face, they do send two messages: (i) the subject matter contained in the EO will be subject to legal challenges; and (ii) given the gravity of the situation, the courts will likely address any such legal challenges in an expeditious manner.  As suggested above, until more practical guidance is issued from the courts, the DHS and/or the White House, colleges and universities should advise faculty, staff and students that could potentially be impacted by this EO not to travel abroad.