What You Need to Know About the Travel Ban - PAAIA

Travel Ban

What is it?

The Travel Ban indefinitely suspends the issuance of both immigrant and non-immigrant visas to applicants from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and Venezuela.  President Donald Trump issued Presidential Proclamation 9645 (Travel Ban 3.0) in September 2017 after the first two iterations of his Travel Ban were blocked by the judicial system.  The third iteration of the Ban currently remains in effect after being upheld by the Supreme Court on June 26th, 2018.

Who is affected?

Over 135 million people are impacted by the Travel Ban with the majority being Iranian nationals.  Among the seven nations included in the Travel Ban, Iran had the largest total number of legal entrants into the U.S. (310,182) between 2006 and 2015.  Two-thirds of those entrants arrived in the U.S. on temporary visas.

U.S. Citizens and green card holders are not affected by the Ban.  Any foreign national traveling on a diplomatic visa, NATO visa, C-2/U.N. visa, or G-1, G-2, G-3, or G-4 visa is also exempt.  Those traveling from Iran with valid student (F & M) and exchange visitor (J) visas are allowed to enter the States but will face enhanced security screening.  Click here to read about how the ban is applied to the other countries on the list.

What is PAAIA doing?

The third iteration of the Travel Ban includes a provision that permits consular officers to grant waivers on a case-by-case basis if the applicant meets specific criteria.  In addition to filing a lawsuit against the Trump Administration and submitting an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, PAAIA has been working with Senator Chris Van Hollen’s office to obtain clarification on this waiver provision.  Unfortunately, our efforts revealed that very few waivers are being granted, even when applicants meet the Proclamation’s criteria.  The State Department admitted that only 2% of applicants have been “cleared for a waiver” as of April 30th, but it is unclear how many have actually received said waivers.  As a result of these findings, Justice Breyer referenced our amicus brief in his dissent, calling the waiver provisions ‘window dressings.’  To learn how to increase your chances of receiving a waiver, please read the section below.

In a letter recently released by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the State Department admitted that as of October,  only 6% of total applicants and only 1% of Iranian applicants have been “cleared for a waiver,” further demonstrating the intentionally discriminatory nature of the Travel Ban.

Despite the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to uphold the proclamation, PAAIA and it’s coalition–IABA and Pars Equality Center–will continue to fight against this discriminatory ban until it is struck down.  Our partners have filed a class action lawsuit challenging the waiver process that is still in the courts.

How do I apply for a waiver?

There is no waiver form or application process and the government has provided very limited guidelines.  Waivers are granted on a case-by-case basis, so when you apply for a visa, a consular officer or a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official makes the decision on whether you qualify for a waiver.  The Proclamation states that to qualify for a waiver an individual must meet the following criteria:

  • denying entry would cause the foreign national undue hardship
  • entry would not pose a threat to the national security or public safety of the U.S.
  • entry would be in the national interest

If you meet all three criteria, you may be granted a waiver, but as October 31st, 2018, only 2,578 waivers out of more than 140,000 applications had been granted- and an even smaller proportion of Iranian nationals had received waivers. Of the 29,634 Iranian national visa applications that are subject to the travel ban,  only 413 have met all three criteria for a waiver, with even fewer visas actually issued to those who met the criteria. Obtaining a waiver is very unlikely, but there are steps you can take to increase your chances.

  • Prepare a ‘waiver packet’ to be submitted along with your visa application — a packet of documents that prove that you meet the three criteria listed above
  • Be sure to have a compelling reason for why you need to travel immediately
  • Severe hardship in your country of origin is not sufficient enough to meet the ‘will cause undue hardship’ criteria; you must show an immediate need for travel
  • The State Department’s response to our efforts with Senator Van Hollen provided some additional guidance on the waiver provisions: “the applicant must demonstrate to the satisfaction of the consular officer that an unusual situation exists that compels immediate travel by the applicant and that delaying visa issuance and the associated travel plans would defeat the purpose of the travel.”
  • To make sure your travel plans are in the national interest of the United States, you must show that a U.S. person or entity would suffer hardship if you could not travel until after these visa restrictions are lifted.
  • Making sure you are not a threat to U.S. national security seems to be the most difficult and opaque criteria to overcome. The State Department has indicated that the national security standards for a waiver involve “administrative processing” and looking at how much information the applicant’s country shares with the U.S. government, which is supposedly the same rational used to put that country on the Travel Ban list in the first place. Unfortunately, the U.S. and the Islamic Republic of Iran have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1980.
  • Make sure to explain why you qualify for a waiver during your interview; don’t just rely on the documents you provide.
  • Hire an immigration attorney

Be aware that even if you take all this advice and have a detailed waiver packet, your chances of receiving a waiver remain very low.

  • A copy of the Presidential Proclamation and highlight the three criteria mentioned in the waiver provisions
  • A sworn declaration detailing your eligibility for a waiver
  • A sworn declaration detailing how not being granted a waiver would negatively impact a U.S. citizen or entity
  • Evidence of a bona fide relationship with someone in the United States. Include marriage certificates, birth certificates, and death certificates of immediate relatives and evidence of U.S. citizenship or legal permanent resident (LPR) status.  Argue family separation causes undue hardship.
  • Any evidence of country conditions that detail your immediate need to come to the U.S. (war/lack of medical treatment/etc)
  • Document economic hardship to U.S. citizen/LPR relative by providing receipts for money transfers to support the household overseas, employment contract or letter from employer or school showing limited time off for travel, etc.
  • Document evidence of adverse economic impact with a statement from a U.S. employer or business interest regarding the cost of recruitment, loss of business, impact on critical business projects, etc.
  • Document medical hardship/illness by providing your medical reports, psychological evaluation reports, letter from a physician including a specific diagnosis and symptomology related to illness, describing the limited treatment options in your home country, prior attempts at treatment, prescription records, history of hospitalization (if applicable), letter from U.S. medical facility or physician who will treat you, including scheduled appointment for you and proposed treatment and recovery schedule, and evidence of funds to pay for treatment.
  • Travel Warnings for individuals who are traveling to your country of origin–use this to show hardship experienced by staying there
  • Provide evidence of imminent travel date, such as an airline itinerary, hotel booking, car rental booking, conference schedule, meeting agenda, etc.
  • Include records of your education, employment, and family ties to show that you are low risk/low danger to the U.S.  Demonstrate that you have lived in areas with no terrorist links or presence. Police clearance letters are also helpful even in countries where the police records are not accepted for NVC purposes (such as Iran)
  • If you have other visas previously issued in your passport, argue that this is evidence of pre-clearance for national security risks
  • It could be useful to include Form DS-5535
  • The Travel Ban Presidential Proclamation
  • State Department letter to Senator Van Hollen with more guidelines on waiver process
  • Further guidelines issued by the State Department on the Travel Ban
  • State Department’s official guidance to consular officers on how to handle the ban
  • Who is impacted by the ban in each country
  • Other criteria that, if met, increases your chance of obtaining a waiver

More information about the waiver process and applying for a visa can be found here.

Immigration Attorneys
If you have the means to hire a U.S. immigration attorney to work on your behalf, that could be very beneficial to your cause.  An immigration attorney can write persuasive letters detailing why you should receive a waiver, contact embassies on your behalf to follow up with your application, and prep you for your visa interview, but hiring an attorney will not guarantee that you receive a waiver.  Below, we’ve compiled a list of websites where you can find prominent immigration lawyers.

The Iranian American Bar Association (IABA)

  • has been working with PAAIA and Pars Equality Center to combat the Travel Ban and they are part of the new lawsuit that focuses on the ineffectiveness of the ban’s waiver provisions
  • IABA is an organization of Iranian American lawyers, so the Travel Ban hits close to home
  • this website contains contact information for multiple lawyers, but not all of them specialize in immigration
  • they released a report detailing their work on the Travel Ban

Pars Equality Center

  • has been working with PAAIA and Pars Equality Center to combat the Travel Ban and they are part of the new lawsuit that focuses on the ineffectiveness of the ban’s waiver provisions
  • is focused solely on Iranians and Iranian Americans, so immigration attorneys speak Farsi as well as English
  • has competent immigration attorneys and accredited U.S. Department of Justice representatives
  • provides information and help regarding the Travel Ban and waivers

Allan S. Lolly & Associates

  • provides detailed information about the Travel Ban and obtaining a waiver
  • has obtained more than 14,000 visas and green cards for family members
  • immigration attorneys only and website is organized by visa type (employment, marriage, waivers, etc)
  • offers free consultations & has a toll-free phone number for persons located outside the U.S.


  • attorneys are fluent in English, Spanish, and Farsi
  • provides detailed information on each visa category and when/how to apply
  • has a blog with useful information about various immigration issues including the Travel Ban and waivers
  • has an Iranian lawyer that has successfully gotten multiple waivers for Iranian clients
  • provides information on how to handle your consular officer interview

Stone Grzegorek & Gonzalez LLP

  • full-service immigration firm
  • has Travel Ban FAQ
  • multilingual, including some attorneys who speak Farsi
  • focuses on all different types of immigration but includes areas on green cards for family and for violence survivors
  • has information about waivers and consular interviews

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