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Trump’s Latest Travel Order Still Looks A Lot Like A Muslim Ban

Supporters of President Trump’s latest travel restrictions argue that they can no longer be described as a Muslim ban because North Korea and Venezuela have been added to the list of targeted countries. Critics, however, say that the impact of the new order will be essentially unchanged from the effects of the previous two. Our estimates, based on visas issued for U.S. travel last year, show that majority-Muslim countries would likely still be the most affected by the new travel rules.

We looked at visas granted last year to see how the new rules would have affected travelers from the eight countries named in the latest order — Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen and Somalia. We found that if these rules had been in place in 2016, they would have stopped more than 65,000 visas from being issued in seven of the eight countries named. About 90 percent of those visas were issued to visitors from Iran, Syria and Yemen — and that total does not include refugees, as it is not yet clear whether they will be affected. If the ban had been applied to North Korea last year, it would have affected just 61 visas.

The eighth country, whose affected visas were not included in our 65,000 total, is Venezuela. Because the directive leaves some room for interpretation in terms of how it will be implemented in that country, it is virtually impossible to know how many visas the Venezuela restrictions would affect. But the way the rules are written suggest that they will apply to a relatively narrow segment of the Venezuelan population, compared to the broader restrictions being applied to the other seven countries.1

The newest restrictions, announced by the White House on Sunday, still target mostly majority-Muslim countries, but they drop Sudan from the list and add Chad, Venezuela and North Korea. The latest directive also made the restrictions indefinite, rather than temporary, and distinguished between categories of visa holders in determining who would be excluded. The administration said in its announcement Sunday night that the countries included were found to lack adequate processes for ensuring that those entering the U.S. didn’t pose a security threat. We wanted to understand who would be affected by this version2 — though the courts blocked the implementation of many aspects of his previous orders, and this one could face legal challenges as well.3

We looked at State Department numbers on how many visas were granted during the 2016 fiscal year, before Trump took office and began issuing travel restrictions.4 The figures used in our analysis count visas, not people, but one person could theoretically be issued multiple visas in the same fiscal year.

Iran, Syria and Yemen, three majority-Muslim countries that have been targeted in all versions of Trump’s travel restrictions, would have been hit hardest by the new restrictions had they been in effect in 2016. Somalia and Libya, also majority-Muslim countries and the other two nations included in both previous versions of the travel restrictions, would have had a few thousand visas blocked. Of the three new countries added to the list in this round, we were only able to confirm that one — Chad, the other Muslim-majority country — would have had more than a few hundred visas affected. While the new rules block nearly all visas from North Korea (diplomatic visas are the exception), the U.S. doesn’t receive many visitors from that country, so only 61 would actually have been rejected in 2016.

Venezuela, however, is a special case. Our data doesn’t show how many people the restrictions might have affected last year because the new rules don’t apply just to certain classes of visas, like they do for other countries, but also to a certain class of people, in this case officials in a handful of government agencies, plus members of their immediate families.5 Officials and their family members would only be turned down for tourist visas, not for a separate class of visa reserved for government agents traveling on state business. The State Department data breaks down visas issued by type, but it does not keep statistics on things like how many government officials requested tourist visas. A spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs said the agency is unable to predict how many affected people would apply for visas.

Asked to estimate how many Venezuelans might fall into the category of people whose travel to the U.S. would be restricted, Dany Bahar, a Venezuelan economist with the Brookings Institution, said, “I haven’t seen such numbers, probably given the ban is written in such lousy terms. In theory it applies to all government officials and their family members. It’s not clear if it is only high-ranking officials or every government employee. If the latter, it could be tens of thousands, if not more.”

In a country of over 31 million residents, even tens of thousands of people is a relatively narrow slice of the overall population. In all seven other countries named in the latest round of travel restrictions, any citizen who applied for certain types of visas would be rejected.

Number of U.S. visas granted by category in 2016

Red indicates groups facing travel restrictions under the new rules

Iran 32,278 7,727 23,678 4,368 485 873 87%
Yemen 16,931 12,998 3,933 914 222 134 93
Syria 11,584 2,633 7,980 478 145 493 99
Somalia 1,797 1,797 233 66 88 64 80
Libya 1,828 383 1,445 417 320 125 68
Chad 940 40 900 122 323 10 67
North Korea 61 9 52 0 48 0 56
Venezuela 2,471 145,331** 4,791 563 5,676

* Diplomatic, NATO, UN, and other government visas are exempted from the nonimmigrant visa restrictions.
** The ban for Venezuela only applies to tourist visas for government officials in certain agencies, plus members of their immediate families. It’s unclear how many visas were issued to those groups.

Source: Department of State

The restrictions applied to each nation vary by visa type:

How the new travel ban affects each country

Restrictions on types of visas to the U.S.

Somalia All barred Not affected
Syria All barred All barred
N. Korea All barred All barred
Iran All barred All barred except student visas
Yemen All barred Tourist visas barred
Libya All barred Tourist visas barred
Chad All barred Tourist visas barred
Venezuela Not affected No tourist visas for officials from at least five government agencies, plus members of their immediate families

*Diplomatic visas are exempt from these restrictions.

Source: Department of State

Visas are broadly divided into “immigrant” and “nonimmigrant” categories, depending on whether a person is planning to move to the U.S. or simply visit. Many immigrant visas are issued based on the applicant’s family connections in the U.S., while others are allocated on the basis of employment. Another prominent subclass of immigrant visa is the diversity visa; those are given out via a lottery system to people from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S.

Trump’s new rules ban immigrant visas from every targeted country except Venezuela. For nonimmigrant visas — which are issued to visitors for temporary travel to the U.S. for tourism, business or study — only North Korea and Syria face a complete ban. In 2016, about 11,500 travel visas from Syria would have been affected, but only 61 from North Korea would have been.

This new set of rules, like its predecessors, is likely to go through court challenges that may prevent the enforcement of some or all of its provisions. But until that happens, and assuming 2016 is a good indicator of travel flow, the ban as it currently stands is likely to affect lots of people — and most of them will still be from predominantly Muslim countries.


  1. We are looking at the 2016 numbers because that is the last set of data that is unaffected by any of Trump’s previous sets of travel restrictions. However, the number of visas issued for each country would likely vary from 2016 to 2017, both for reasons unrelated to the travel restrictions and because the rules would likely discourage people from applying for visas if they expected to be rejected.

  2. The new order will be issued in two phases. From now until Oct. 18, nationals of four of the eight affected countries (Iran, Libya, Syria, and Yemen) will be barred from travel to the U.S. unless they have a relationship with “close family” — including parents, spouses, siblings and grandparents — or a U.S. entity. For Somalia, only immigrant visas and diversity visas are subject to the relationship rule; nonimmigrant visas will be not be affected. Starting on Oct. 18, the ban will go into effect for all countries named in the directive, and relationship exemptions will no longer be available.

  3. The Supreme Court on Monday scrapped a hearing on the old restrictions and asked lawyers to instead submit arguments on whether the whole issue is moot now that there’s a new policy.

  4. The Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs maintains public data on the number and types of visas issued by the U.S. to citizens of other countries. The 2016 fiscal year runs from Oct. 1, 2015, through Sept. 30, 2016.

  5. According to the proclamation, the ban applies to “officials of government agencies of Venezuela involved in screening and vetting procedures — including the Ministry of the Popular Power for Interior, Justice and Peace; the Administrative Service of Identification, Migration and Immigration; the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigation Service Corps; the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service; and the Ministry of the Popular Power for Foreign Relations — and their immediate family members.”

Kathryn Casteel is a former FiveThirtyEight staffer who wrote about economics and policy issues.

Andrea Jones-Rooy was a quantitative researcher for FiveThirtyEight.