The U.S. Department of State has updated its travel warning regarding Iraq. The full text of the warning is below.
Travel within Iraq remains very dangerous, and the ability of the Embassy to assist U.S. citizens facing difficulty is extremely limited. This supersedes the Travel Warning dated January 31, 2017.
U.S. citizens in Iraq are at high risk for kidnapping and terrorist violence. Numerous terrorist and insurgent groups are active in Iraq, including ISIS (also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, ISIL, Islamic State and Iraq ash-Sham, or Da'esh). Such groups regularly attack both Iraqi security forces and civilians. Anti-U.S. sectarian militias may also threaten U.S. citizens and western companies throughout Iraq. Attacks by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) occur frequently in many areas of the country, including Baghdad. U.S. citizens should pay particular attention to the possibility of terrorist attacks around religious and civic holidays.
Methods of attack have included explosively formed penetrators, magnetic IEDs placed on vehicles, human and vehicle-borne IEDs, mines placed on or concealed near roads, mortars and rockets, and gunfire. Such attacks often take place in public places, including cafes and markets. Facilities of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the U.S. government, and western interests remain possible targets.
The U.S. government particularly warns private U.S. citizens against traveling to or transiting through Iraq, or entering Syria, to engage in armed conflict. In addition to the extreme personal risks of kidnapping, injury, or death posed by such actions, legal risks include arrest, fines, and expulsion. Since the closure of the border between Syria and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR), the KRG has stated that it will impose prison sentences of up to ten years on individuals who illegally cross the border. U.S. citizens are reminded that fighting on behalf of or providing other forms of support to designated terrorist organizations, including ISIS, can constitute providing material support for terrorism, a crime that can result in penalties, including prison time and large fines in the United States.
The Embassy urges U.S. citizens in Iraq to avoid protests and large gatherings. Iraqi authorities have responded forcefully when violence has occurred, including on two occasions in 2016 when protestors entered the International Zone (IZ) in Baghdad and attacked Iraqi government buildings. These incursions resulted in personal injury to both protesters and security personnel. Demonstrations in Baghdad have also occurred in and around Tahrir Square. Demonstrations in Basrah have occurred at the offices of the Provincial Council and governor.
The Department of State strongly cautions U.S. citizens not to travel near the Syrian, Turkish, or Iranian borders with Iraq, which are especially dangerous and not always clearly defined. U.S. citizens traveling near border areas may encounter aerial or artillery bombardments, unmarked minefields, border skirmishes with smugglers, and large refugee flows. Neighboring governments, including Iran, have detained U.S. citizens who approach these borders.
The Government of Iraq strictly enforces regulations regarding visas and entry, authorizations for weapons, and movements through checkpoints. U.S. citizens traveling to Iraq without the proper authorization or whose purpose of travel is not readily apparent have been detained without warning. For more information on entry/exit requirements, please see our Country Specific Information page for Iraq.
The Government of Iraq has begun to improve the structural integrity of the Mosul Dam. However, a dam failure could cause significant flooding, loss of life, and interruption of essential services from Mosul to Baghdad. While it is impossible to accurately predict the likelihood of the dam’s failing, the Embassy has made contingency plans to relocate its personnel in such an event. The Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens in Iraq who reside in the floodplain of the Tigris River prepare their own contingency plans, have valid U.S. passports, and stay informed of local media reports and Embassy security messages.
The U.S. government considers the potential personal security threats to U.S. government personnel in Iraq to be serious enough to require them to live and work under strict security guidelines. All U.S. government employees under the authority of the U.S. Chief of Mission must follow strict safety and security procedures when traveling outside the Embassy and Consulates. The internal security policies of the U.S. Mission in Iraq may change at any time. The Mission will regularly restrict or prohibit movements by its personnel, often on short notice, for security threats or demonstrations.
U.S. citizens who come to Iraq despite this warning should have medical insurance that provides coverage in Iraq, as well as supplemental medevac insurance to provide medical transport out of the country. The U.S. government does not pay medical bills or medical transport fees for U.S. citizens. Medicare and Medicaid do not cover medical costs outside the United States. Travelers should expect no medical assistance from the U.S. government.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has determined that U.S. civil aviation flying in Iraqi airspace is at risk from ongoing combat operations involving military forces (military aerial combat operations and other militarily-related activity) and militant groups. As a result, the FAA currently prohibits U.S. civil aviation from operating in or overflying Iraqi airspace with very limited exceptions. Foreign airlines operating in Iraq may cancel their operations without warning due to the security environment or other factors. Travelers should remain vigilant and reconfirm all flight schedules with their airline prior to commencing any travel. For further background information regarding FAA prohibitions on U.S. civil aviation, U.S. citizens should consult the Federal Aviation Administration’s Prohibitions, Restrictions and Notices website.
For more information:
UPDATED January 30, 2017. Changes in italics
The situation is changing hourly, so please check back frequently as we update this alert.
What countries are affected by the ban?
The countries involved are: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The Executive Order (EO) refers to "aliens", "foreign nationals" and "nationals", so the language is inconsistent. It may include dual nationals.
The EO also allows states that "the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including "honor" killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation." This means that the ban could extend beyond the 7 named countries, and is clearly aimed at people from Muslim countries.
What type of immigrants are affected by the ban?
The ban applies to anyone entering the US who meets the nationality requirements described above. It applies to refugees, asylum seekers, visitors, nonimmigrant visa holders and even permanent residents (green card holders). The ban excludes some diplomatic visas.
I thought green card holders were OK?
UPDATE 2/2/17: the White House announced that permanent residents were excluded from the ban. We don't know if immigration officers at the airport are following this guidance yet.
1/28/17: The EO applies to "immigrants", i.e. permanent residents (LPRs). However, after massive protests and complaints about this aspect of the ban, DHS issued a statement stating that LPRs could be allowed into the US. The statement did not remove the "immigrant" language from the ban, but stated that "...absent significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare, lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations." In other words, LPRs may be admitted if the admitting officer at the airport feels that they are not a threat.
How long does the ban last?
The ban lasts for 90 days, starting from yesterday, January 27, 2017.
I am from one of those countries - can I travel outside the US?
We strongly recommend that you do not travel outside the US until further notice.
I have an application pending with USCIS. Will that be affected?
Unfortunately, pending applications will probably be placed on hold. The EO section that refers to the ban states that it "...suspend[s] entry into the United States...." (emphasis added). However, other sections refer to "...other benefit.." This could include nonimmigrant visa extensions, citizenship applications, etc. We are hearing rumors that some immigration officers have been told to stop working on applications involving nationals of the 7 countries (1/30/17)
Are there any exceptions to the ban?
The EO provides that the "Secretaries of State and Homeland Security may, on a case-by-case basis and when in the national interest, issue visas or other immigration benefits.." This waiver was applied to one of the first people affected by the ban, http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/28/politics/2-iraqis-file-lawsuit-after-being-detained-in-ny-due-to-travel-ban/index.html.
This is much more in the EO, referring to the suspension of refugee admissions for 120 days, suspension of the visa waiver interview program, etc. These will be covered in another blog posting in the next few days.
If you have any questions about this matter, please contact Elaine Martin, immigration lawyer.
The US Department of Homeland Security and State Departments jointly announced a tightening of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) today, January 21, 2016. The announcement follows a law passed by Congress in December to tighten the Visa-Waiver Program. The law was aimed at preventing Europeans who have joined Islamic State and other terrorist groups from entering the U.S.
The following people will no longer be eligible to enter the US without a visa:
The above individuals can still enter the US, but only if they have been granted a visa by a US consulate, following an application and interview process.
Under the new law, the Secretary of Homeland Security may waive these restrictions if he determines that such a waiver is in the law enforcement or national security interests of the United States. Such waivers will be granted only on a case-by-case basis. Example of qualifying exceptions include travel for humanitarian work, journalism, and business reasons.
DHS Press Release
Elaine Martin has been practising US and global immigration law since 1997. She is an immigrant herself (from Ireland), so has a special understanding of the legal and emotional challenges involved in relocating to a new country.