The move on Wednesday came after the supreme court partially restored President Donald Trump’s executive order that was widely criticised as a ban on Muslims.
Visas that have already been approved will not be revoked, but instructions issued by the state department say new applicants from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen must prove a relationship with a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the United States to be eligible.
The same requirement, with some exceptions, holds for would-be refugees from all nations who are still awaiting approval for admission to the US.
Grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers- and sisters-in-law, fiancées/fiancés or other extended family members are not considered to be close relationships, according to the guidelines that were issued in a cable sent to all US embassies and consulates late on Wednesday.
The new rules take effect on Thursday, according to the cable, which was obtained by he Associated Press.
On Monday, the Supreme Court partially lifted lower court injunctions against Trump’s executive order that had temporarily banned visas for citizens of the six countries.
The justices’ ruling exempted applicants from the ban if they could prove a “bona fide relationship” with a US person or entity, but the court offered only broad guidelines – suggesting they would include a relative, job offer or invitation to lecture in the US – as to how that should be defined.
Senior officials from the departments of state, justice and homeland security had worked since the decision to clarify the ruling and Wednesday’s instructions were the result.
As far as business or professional links are concerned, the state department said a legitimate relationship must be “formal, documented and formed in the ordinary course rather than for the purpose of evading” the ban. Journalists, students, workers or lecturers who have valid invitations or employment contracts in the US would be exempt from the ban.
The exemption does not apply to those who seek a relationship with an American business or educational institution purely for the purpose of avoiding the rules, the cable said. A hotel reservation or car rental contract, even if it were pre-paid, would also not count, it said.
Analysis Why the supreme court's travel ban ruling may not be a win for Trump
The president celebrated the court’s decision to allow parts of the ban to take effect, but ultimately, ‘the president might well lose on this’, says a legal expert.
Trump’s initial travel ban in January led to chaos at airports around the world, but because the fresh guidelines exempt previously issued visas, similar problems are not expected.
After a judge blocked the original ban, Trump issued a scaled-down order, and the court’s action on Monday further reduced the number of people who would be covered by it. While the initial order took effect immediately, adding to the confusion, this one was delayed 72 hours after the court’s ruling.
Would-be immigrants from the six counties who won a coveted visa in the government’s diversity lottery – a program that randomly awards 50,000 green cards annually to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the US – will have to prove they have a “bona fide relationship” within the US or are eligible for another waiver or face being banned for at least 90 days.
That hurdle may be a difficult one for those immigrants to overcome, as many visa lottery winners do not have relatives in the US, or jobs in advance of arriving in the country.
Generally, winners only need prove they were born in an eligible county and have completed high school or have at least two years of work experience in an occupation that requires at least two other years of training or experience.