Weeks after travelers were detained at airports, pulled off planes, or denied boarding altogether in the wake of President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, employers are trying to make sure they — and their workers — are not caught by surprise when the next version comes along.
Enforcement of the Jan. 27 order banning travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, was halted by a judge after a chaotic start. That suspension was upheld by an appeals court in California earlier this month. Trump has said a new order, likely focusing on the same seven countries, could be issued this week.
Immigration attorneys, travel assistance companies, and business travel organizations have been fielding questions, offering seminars and doling out advice as the administration works to refine the ban.
“The ability of one’s workforce to travel and re-enter may be severely curtailed,” said Alejandro Mayorkas, former deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. “One has to adapt one’s business processes, at least in the short term, accordingly.”
Common questions have included the impact on U.S. travelers in the seven targeted countries; whether additional countries might be added; whether green card holders from the seven countries would be affected (initially they were, but early reports indicate they will be excluded from the new ban); and whether travelers from other Muslim-majority countries will face additional screening.
“Pretty much immediately following the initial signing, we had gotten barraged by a number of client inquiries,” said iJet International intelligence analyst Sean Wolinsky. The firm conducted a seminar online last week.
Mayorkas, who now works at the WilmerHale law firm, spoke last week during the iJet webinar. He pointed out that the order also called for an examination of what is needed to properly vet visas altogether.
“This is not limited to the seven designated countries that are under the travel ban, but rather further information that is needed from any and all countries to ensure that our visa processing is as secure as we need it to be,” he said. “Visa processing across the board…could be altered rather materially in the coming several months.”
Matt Bradley, regional security director of the Americas at International SOS, said he believes that overarching visa review process will lead to increased vetting across the board but reduce the likelihood that other countries would be added to a new executive order.
Mayorkas and other experts also stressed the need for corporations to communicate policies about work phones and laptops in light of reports that officials have been conducting searches of electronics and requesting passwords at points of entry.
“This is going to raise a lot of questions not only for the individual traveler but very importantly for the employee of a company traveling with his or her work devices and what that means for the company,” Mayorkas said. “For example: Is the empoyee in a position to grant consent, or does the password arguably belong to the employer?”
In a separate online seminar offered by the Global Business Travel Association last week, immigration attorney Corina Farias said companies needed to develop a “corporate business action plan” to prepare for the upcoming order.
She said employers should be aware of employee travel plans, especially if they are from the named countries, and consult with attorneys about the risk of international travel. Travelers should keep emergency contacts for company representatives and attorneys handy, and anyone asked to sign documents when they come into the country should request a copy.
All workers should be aware of what support is available from their employer — and should be warned that delays and increased scrutiny are possible, even if they are not from the seven countries, she said.
Farias, a partner at immigration law firm Foster, said that although the ban is on hold, her firm is getting reports that even U.S.-born citizens have been hassled as they re-entered the country.
“The practical implications are simply that you’ve got foreign nationals that are frightened and really afraid about what is going to happen when they enter the United States,” she said. “This is not only a fear that exists among individuals that are citizens of those seven countries or that have visited those seven countries, but this is a fear that exists basically for everyone traveling internationally.”
Based on individual cases, Farias said some clients are still being advised not to leave the country “until the dust settles.”
Bradley, of International SOS, said last week that some of his firm’s clients are still taking extra precautions.
“I would say that most clients are not sending travelers from those seven countries out of the United States because they don’t want them to get caught out if another order comes out,” he said.
That cautious approach seemed to be common among employers. In the week following the order, several polls showed companies around the globe would cut back on business travel because of fears that workers would not be allowed into the U.S., would not be welcome in the country, or would face harassment abroad.
The Global Business Travel Association said $185 million in business travel bookings were lost in the week following the order and urged Trump to reconsider the ban with input from the travel industry.
Bradley said it remains crucial for companies to know which employees are on the road in case of sudden changes.
“Companies should continue their business travel and not inhibit their business as a result of this,” he said. “But they should be prepared to be able to very quickly identify who those travelers are and have a plan of communication with them.”
Farias said she is hopeful that whatever directive comes next will cause less chaos than the first one.
“I like to believe that this will have been a learning experience for the administration, that they will, if they do release another order, really handle it more carefully and provide clearer guidance,” she said.