By Douglas B. Thie

In the week after his inauguration, President Donald Trump signed three executive orders that will significantly affect non-U.S. citizens both immediately and in the coming months. Most recently, he signed an executive order titled Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States. This order contains two important provisions that affect non-U.S. citizen students and academic professionals, which are discussed in detail below.

First, the order suspends the issuance of visas and other immigration benefits to nationals of seven countries. These countries include Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Second, the order prohibits the entry of nonimmigrant visa holders from these seven countries to the United States for 90 days and cancels their visas. Ninety days from the date of the order is April 27, 2017. There is no guarantee that either of these provisions will not be extended past the 90 day period.

Trump’s executive order is being challenged as unconstitutional in federal district courts around the United States, and the outcome of that litigation is far from certain. On Feb. 3, a federal district court judge issued a nationwide temporary restraining order blocking the implementation of Trump’s executive order. While the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to stay the district court’s temporary restraining order, the Department of Justice continues to seek reinstatement of the president’s executive order. In response to the temporary restraining order, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of State have issued statements that they will continue issuing visas and admitting to the U.S. nationals from these seven countries.

If the temporary restraining order is lifted, non-U.S. citizens outside the United States who are from these seven countries will not be issued a nonimmigrant visa. Similarly, those outside the United States with a valid F-1, J-1, or M-1 student visa, or other nonimmigrant visa, will have their visas cancelled and will not be permitted to reenter the United States until after the travel ban is lifted.

For nationals of these seven countries that are currently in the United States in valid nonimmigrant status, they should not travel abroad until after the travel ban expires. If their nonimmigrant status expires during the travel ban and they are eligible to apply for an extension of status or change of status in the United States, they should apply for an extension of status or change of status in the United States and not travel abroad to attempt to renew their visa at a U.S. consulate. If they depart the United States and the temporary restraining order is lifted, they will not be permitted to renew their visa or reenter the United States.

Similarly, U.S. lawful permanent residents from these seven nations should be advised against traveling outside the United States at this time unless absolutely necessary. Even though the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has indicated that U.S. lawful permanent residents will be permitted to reenter the United States irrespective of the temporary restraining order, their entry will nonetheless be subject to heightened scrutiny. U.S. lawful permanent residents could be detained for hours, days, or even months if U.S. Customs and Border Patrol suspects that the lawful permanent resident has any terrorism ties.

Colleges and universities across the country are grappling with how best to interpret and respond to the executive order.  Higher education leaders across the country have spoken out about their concern regarding the impact of the order, including those from the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities. The American Association of Universities, a nonprofit organization composed of 62 leading public and private research universities in the United States and Canada, called for the order to “end as quickly as possible” and for the Trump Administration “to make clear to the world that the United States continues to welcome the most talented individuals from all countries to study, teach, and carry out research and scholarship at our universities.”

Locally, most colleges and universities recommended that their faculty, staff, and students from the specified countries avoid international travel until further notice.  Specific statements from several North Carolina colleges and universities include:  East Carolina University, Elon University, Fayetteville State University, Davidson College, Duke University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University, UNC System, UNC Charlotte, UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Greensboro, UNC Wilmington and Wake Forest University.