President Donald Trump’s travel ban executive order continues to create fear and uncertainty, even while it is suspended.
During its weeklong enforcement period, citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations were detained at airports, stranded abroad or unable to travel to the U.S. Travelers faced congested traffic due to protests and taxi strikes as well as mass confusion about the new restrictions.
When a federal judge suspended the order, these problems largely subsided. However, travelers remain on edge. People fear that restrictions could change without warning as they did on Jan. 27. The executive order has also caused the global community to perceive the U.S. as inhospitable to foreign travelers. Businesses are worried about sending employees abroad — as well as the long-term impacts of the ban on their operations.
Airline industry consultant Bob Mann told Entrepreneur that the order could have a ripple effect on the travel industry similar to that of the SARS outbreak nearly 15 years ago. He cites the disappearance of flight MH370 in 2014 as another “black swan type of event” that has harmed demand in the past.
“Whereas airlines can hedge against certain things, like energy costs or foreign currency movements, this is the sort of an event you can’t hedge against,” Mann says.
Of course, though, the pain would not just be contained within the travel industry, but potentially across any companies that do business abroad or employ individuals from outside the U.S.
According to a small survey conducted last week by the Global Business Travel Association, 30 percent of U.S. travel professionals said they expected that their company would reduce business travel within the next three months as a result of the ban. A similar proportion said they expected the ban to negatively impact their company’s business travel throughout the rest of this year.
Due to a lack of clarity about how the order will be implemented and interpreted in the U.S. and abroad going forward, travelers are unsure whether religion, a history of travel to one or more of the banned countries and specific types of traveler documentation will factor into U.S. admittance if officials resume enforcement of the ban.
The following explainer can help entrepreneurs better navigate this situation and make good decisions for their employees and companies as it develops.
What might make someone want to delay or cancel travel plans given the order?
“I would say, if they’re going to have a short travel, now would be the time to do it,” says Tahanie Aboushi, a partner at the Aboushi Law Firm and an organizer with No Ban JFK who spent days (and some nights) at New York’s JFK airport assisting travelers since the ban was implemented. “Otherwise, sit tight.”
While the ban is temporarily suspended, citizens of the seven nations it restricts are in the clear. But some may be worried that it will be reinstated or that the government will impose further travel restrictions in the future.
“For now, the ban is suspended, and travel has been pretty OK. We’ve had people with student visas, H1-Bs and other visa categories traveling just fine,” Aboushi says. “We can call [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] and say, ‘This person is from this country, they’ve got this kind of visa, are they good to go?’ and CBP will say, ‘Yeah, we have their name and information, there shouldn’t be any issues.’”
That said, the federal court orders suspending the ban are only temporary. Once they expire, they may not be renewed. These orders are prompted by lawsuits from law firms and organizations such as the ACLU, so their renewal is dependent on continued filings as well as rulings to extend the suspension. In addition, because the executive order bars travel from seven nations for 90 days, the Trump administration could issue new restrictions once those 90 days are up.
“From the practical standpoint, of course the risk is there,” says Suraj Patel, another lawyer who volunteered at JFK airport. “Unfortunately, I would have to at least advise and say that we’d get you home, somehow, come hell or high water — but there’s no guarantee that it’s going to be smooth, seamless and easy like it’s supposed to be, even if you’re valid status.”
Respondents to the survey (mentioned above) conducted by the Global Business Travel Association last week, before the order’s suspension, cited their top two concerns about the executive order as uncertainty regarding green card and approved visa credibility to enter the U.S. and increased traveler harassment. In the longer term, the potential for other countries to respond to the ban, complications in travel to the U.S. and increased threats against U.S. travelers abroad worried some respondents.
While only 58 of the GBTA’s U.S. members participated in the survey, the organization found that half of those travel professionals strongly or somewhat opposed the executive order, while 38 percent strongly or somewhat supported it. This reflects polarized political views of the U.S. as a whole and indicates that a large contingent of business leaders are not concerned that the issues above will affect their travelers.
What else should non-citizen travelers do during this time?
Aboushi advises that anyone who is eligible should apply for naturalization as soon as possible. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has a statement on its website that says it’s still processing applications for people from those seven countries.
“I’ve been telling everybody, file as soon as you can, get it in the door, because we don’t know if the next phase would be doing away with certain categories [of employment-based visas],” Aboushi says.
The H1-B visa has to be renewed every three years, and individuals must wait a year before their employer can petition for a green card, according to Aboushi. The majority of the other employment-based visas must be renewed annually, and depending on the status of employment, the renewal process may have to take place outside the U.S.
“It’s hard to do a general, ‘Everybody who’s got an employment-based visa, this is how you should proceed,’” Aboushi says. “If there’s a possibility where their temporary or non-immigrant-based visa can be adjusted to something more permanent, or if their employer can petition them for a green card, that would be the best-case scenario for them.”
Is a business responsible for a foreign nation employee’s flight to his or her home country should that individual be prohibited from entering the U.S.?
Companies do not have to bear the cost if an employee is deported during a business trip. U.S. carriers have rebooked and offered full refunds to travelers who had to cancel flights to the U.S., though no U.S.-based carrier flies directly to any of the seven countries listed in the executive order. In general, airlines must pick up return flight costs for deported travelers.
Airlines not only have to bear deportation costs in many cases, but they also have to be aware of any travel restrictions their employees face. Some foreign national flight crew members from the restricted countries weren’t able to enter the U.S. for layovers or resting periods while the ban was in effect.
“Some of these companies have had to reschedule employees, examples being airlines from those countries arriving to the U.S. with foreign national crew members who may or may not be detained, may or may not be admissible,” says Mann, the airline industry consultant. “They would have to be immediately returned on a return flight, so then the airline wouldn’t have crew members to operate the return flight as scheduled.”
Travelers have long had to deal with differing interpretations of travel rules. How does this executive order change that?
The weekend after President Trump signed the executive order, airlines and passengers were, in many cases, caught off guard. Many people who had secured what would have been valid visas before the order’s signing had to face the new law once they landed in the U.S.
While TSA agents, for example, have long exercised individual discretion to some degree in enforcing travel regulations, “there’s also a baseline,” Mann says. “The baseline didn’t exist for these particular orders. In the absence of that, you’re kind of like Lucy with the football. You pull the football away at the last minute, and people fall flat.”
There’s also the potential for other countries to pose reciprocal restrictions on the U.S., further complicating travel and opening the possibility for more unexpected, instantaneous changes.
How can I prepare to avoid disruptions and delays?
For now, travelers must be aware of the restrictions specified in the Jan. 27 executive order, given the possibility that they could be reinstated.
“You can only do what you can do, but you can do it based on the best information available,” Mann says. “It’s when that information changes on short notice, or with no notice, that things get difficult.”
As always, travelers should make sure that their documentation of any kind is in order and is current. They should give themselves more time to get to and from the airport and make alternate arrangements if possible, due to the possibility of protests and transportation strikes in response to the ban. In short, do everything that airlines already recommend, “now more than ever,” says Michael W. McCormick, executive director and COO of the Global Business Travel Association.
In addition to allotting extra time, lawyer Patel advises being patient — especially after seeing frustrations boil over among some travelers and airline employees firsthand at JFK over the past week. Travelers should remember that the person at the check-in counter is receiving updates about the executive order and acting accordingly in real time.
“Most of the people you’re dealing with at airlines don’t want to have to do this, either,” Patel says. “A little bit of courtesy I think goes a long way now, in these times.”
Finally, those coming into the country — or stuck abroad — should be aware of legal resources such as the hotline for No Ban USA. Patel even suggests that travelers program them into their phones beforehand. They can provide legal counsel as well as facilitate your entry into the U.S.
“We just keep telling everybody, ‘Give us a head’s up. Let us know,’ so we can anticipate the travel and keep an eye on them while they’re coming in, make sure everything goes smooth,” Aboushi says. “And whatever we can do to make sure we get enough clearance from CBP so that there is no miscommunication, also let us know.”
Should I look into travel insurance?
“Most travel insurance policies would exclude any losses claimed as a result of this action,” said Megan Freedman, executive director of the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, in an email to Entrepreneur. “Most policies have language stating loss due to ‘government prohibition or regulation’ is excluded. Therefore, many policies would not cover travel delays or interruptions due to restrictions as a result of the executive order. However, policies vary from company to company and ultimately the decision to afford coverage is up to individual member companies. It is important to read any policy carefully to understand what is — and is not — covered. If you’re not sure, ask the company directly.
Freedman also noted that “most travel protection plans include travel assistance services, such as legal referrals and assistance making alternate travel arrangements.”
AXA Insurance U.K. recently announced it would allow individuals who have been denied entry to the U.S. to make claims.
“Although not technically covered, we view the current situation as unprecedented and unforeseen and as such we are extending the cover under our policies,” an AXA spokesperson told Insurance Journal.
Where can I go for more information and updates?
The State Department told Entrepreneur that the best place to stay up to date and find answers to frequently asked questions is this page about the executive order on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.