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Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde July 15, 2020

Donald Trump imposed visa sanctions on some recalcitrant nations, but not all

President Donald Trump's administration has followed through with his promise to "cancel" visas for nationals of countries that systematically don't cooperate in the repatriation of their own citizens who have been ordered removed or deported by the United States.

However, not all countries that are uncooperative have been penalized. Also, the sanctions generally haven't applied to all citizens. The people prohibited visas mainly have been government officials and their immediate families.

The Homeland Security and State departments have announced sanctions on at least nine countries: Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Burma, Laos, Ghana, Pakistan and Burundi. The types of visas restricted have varied by country; they include visas for temporary business or tourism and for student and exchange programs.

The U.S. government labels countries that systematically refuse or delay the repatriation of their citizens as "recalcitrant" or "uncooperative." The number of recalcitrant countries fluctuates as countries update their practices and accept their citizens at levels deemed acceptable by the United States.

A January report from the Congressional Research Service said that as of May 2019 there were 10 recalcitrant countries, and an additional 23 countries were considered "at risk of non-compliance."

China and Cuba are among countries that have consistently been considered recalcitrant but not sanctioned. A State Department official in 2016 told a U.S. House committee that countries such as China and Cuba control the foreign travel of their citizens and as a result may be unmoved by visa sanctions. Imposing sanctions may also push countries to retaliate in ways that could hurt the U.S. economy or security, the official said.

The State Department in April 2019 said that since federal law was modified in 1996 to allow sanctions of nonimmigrant visas, 318 applicants had been affected. In April 2019, only 10 recalcitrant countries were under visa sanctions (Guyana in 2001, Gambia in 2016, and eight during Trump's presidency. Burundi's sanction was announced in June 2020.)

"During this same time period, tens of millions of aliens have received nonimmigrant visas including, collectively, millions of applicants from the 10 countries affected," the State Department said in an April 22, 2019, final rule published in the Federal Register.

Trump's administration has restricted visas for nationals of countries that refuse to take back their citizens. But those restrictions have been narrow — mainly focused on government officials. The sanctions also haven't applied to all uncooperative nations. Given the uneven application, we rate this a Compromise.

Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde September 15, 2017

Trump administration places visa sanctions on 4 countries not taking back nationals ordered deported

President Donald Trump's administration announced it is placing visa restrictions on four countries that are not taking back nationals the United States seeks to deport. 

Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea, and Sierra Leone "have denied or unreasonably delayed accepting" their nationals ordered removed from the United States, the Department of Homeland Security said Sept. 13 in a news release.

 "International law obligates each country to accept the return of its nationals ordered removed from the United States," said DHS Acting Secretary Elaine Duke. "Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea, and Sierra Leone have failed in that responsibility."

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered consular offices in the four countries to implement visa restrictions on certain categories of visa applicants. The sanctions may be expanded or lifted depending on the countries' cooperation. 

A 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case, Zadvydas vs. Davis, decided that immigrants with final orders of removal cannot be detained for an indefinite period of time if it's unlikely that they will actually be deported. The United States has not been able to deport nationals from Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea, and Sierra Leone due to lack of travel documents and has been forced to release them into U.S. communities, including some with criminal convictions, DHS said.

Per DHS, these are the restrictions placed on each of the four countries, effective Sept. 13: 

Cambodia: discontinued issuance of B visas (temporary visitors for business or pleasure) for Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs employees, with the rank of Director General and above, and their families;

Eritrea: discontinued issuance of all B visas (temporary visitors for business or pleasure);

Guinea: discontinued issuance of B visas (temporary visitors for business or pleasure), and F, J, and M visas (temporary visitors for student and exchange programs) to Guinean government officials and their immediate family members;

Sierra Leone: discontinued issuance of B visas (temporary visitors for business or pleasure) to Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials and immigration officials.

ICE found that as of May 2, 2016, there were 23 countries considered recalcitrant, or who are uncooperative in taking back their nationals. That number has dropped significantly.

As of September 2017, the United States considered 11 countries, as well as Hong Kong, to be recalcitrant, said Tyler Q. Houlton, DHS deputy press secretary.

The 11 countries are: China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Iran, Guinea, Cambodia, Eritrea, Burma, Morocco and South Sudan.

Asked why Sierra Leone was not on the recalcitrant list if it wasn't taking back nationals, Houlton told us the U.S. government regularly works with other countries to improve cooperation and that as a result the list of recalcitrant countries is "fluid."

"ICE's list of recalcitrant countries is one tool to measure compliance — sanctions in response to any country delaying or refusing to accept the return of their nationals can be implemented at any time," Houlton said.

Trump promised to cancel visas to foreign countries that won't take back their nationals. The latest sanctions from his administration are in line with his pledge. We'll continue to monitor the administration's enforcement of sanctions against uncooperative nations. For now, we rate this promise In the Works.

Our Sources

Allison Graves
By Allison Graves January 30, 2017

Executive order urges cracking down on uncooperative countries

Donald Trump signed an executive order Jan. 25 directing the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to enforce already existing sanctions against countries refusing to allow people deported from America to return to their native homes.

The order specifically directs the two departments to withhold visas from countries that refuse to take their immigrants back.

This is laid out in Sec. 12 of the order. It reads:

Recalcitrant Countries. The Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State shall cooperate to effectively implement the sanctions provided by section 243(d) of the INA (8 U.S.C. 1253(d)), as appropriate. The Secretary of State shall, to the maximum extent permitted by law, ensure that diplomatic efforts and negotiations with foreign states include as a condition precedent the acceptance by those foreign states of their nationals who are subject to removal from the United States.

The secretary of state is already required by law to stop giving visas to immigrants or nonimmigrants after being notified the country is hindering the accepting of one of its citizens, according to Section 243(d) of INA (8 U.S.C. 1253(d)).

Yet according to  the New York Times, that's only happened once — in 2001 against the nation of Guyana.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote a letter in June to Jeh Johnson, then-secretary of Homeland Security, encouraging the department to start enforcing the already existing sanctions.

"As the person in charge of protecting the homeland and overseeing our country's visa policies, I strongly urge you to consider using section 243(d) against the recalcitrant countries to compel them to start cooperating with ICE," reads a line of the letter.

In his letter, Grassley also mentioned a document from ICE, which outlines a speech from deputy director Daniel Ragsdale. According to the document, as of May 2, 2016, ICE documented 23 countries that are considered "recalcitrant" in taking back their citizens. The list includes Afghanistan, Algeria, China, Cuba, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Zimbabwe.

In the past, administrations have not enforced the sanctions included Section 243(d) so, the real test of Trump's order will depend on if an existing law is enforced more over the next four years. For now, we rate this promise In the Works.

Our Sources

PolitiFact, "Mostly True: Donald Trump says 23 countries refuse to take back their natives from America," September 1, 2016.

Letter, Immigration, 06-27-16, Recalcitrant countries letter to DHS Johnson.pdf, June 27, 2016

New York Times, Nations Hinder U.S. Effort to Deport Immigrants Convicted of Crime, July 1, 2016

Cornell Law School, "8 U.S. Code § 1253 - Penalties related to removal," accessed Jan. 30, 2017

WhiteHouse.gov, "Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States," Jan. 25, 2017

Email with Steven Cheung, White House spokesperson, Jan. 25, 2017

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