Visa applicants from six Muslim-majority countries must prove close family or business ties to the United States. The new guidelines come days after the US Supreme Court reinstated parts of Donald Trump's travel ban.
The guidelines issued Wednesday by the Trump administration in a cable to US Consulates and Embassies, apply to visa applicants from Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Iran and Yemen.
The new criteria are to be implemented at 8:00 pm EDT on Thursday (0000 UTC Friday) and do not apply to previously issued visas.
The Supreme Court reinstituted part of Trump's travel ban on Monday, including allowing a 90-day ban on all refugees entering the US. However, the court ruled that people "with a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States" could not be denied entry.
The criteria require these applicants to have a close 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 for a visa. Close family "does not include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-laws and sisters-in-law, fiancés, and any other 'extended' family members."
The same requirement holds for refugees from these nations, with a few exceptions, who are waiting for entry into the United States.
In relation to business ties, the cable said a close business or professional relationship must be "formal, documented and formed in the ordinary course rather than for the purpose of evading" the ban. Workers, students or lecturers who have valid invitations or employment contracts in the US are exempt, but simply having a hotel or rental car contract, even if it was pre-paid, will not be granted entry.
Consulates can continue to interview applicants for so-called diversity visas, a program designed to grant visas for individuals who have low immigrant rates to the US. However, the applicants will also have to prove they have a "bona fide relationship" with in the U.S. or are eligible for another waiver or face being banned for at least 90 days.
Critics watching closely
Trump issued the initial refugee travel bansin January shortly after he took office. After a judge blocked the ban, he issued toned-down versions of the ban in March, but courts still deemed the measure to be unlawful and discriminatory towards Muslims.
In their ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court lifted some of the lower court injunctions, a ruling the American president called "great for America's future security and safety" on Twitter. The appeal case was scheduled to be heard in October at the start of the court's next term.
The initial ban caused chaos at airports around the world, but Trump said last week the new criteria would be implemented 72 hours after the court decision. Because the guidelines exempt previously issued visas, similar airport issues aren't expected.
Critics said they are monitoring this third attempt closely to see how it is implemented.
"Initial reports suggest that the government may try to unilaterally expand the scope of the ban - for example, by arbitrarily refusing to treat certain categories of familial relationships as 'bona fide,'" said Omar Jadwat, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's immigrants' rights project. "These reports are deeply concerning. We are watching for official word."
dv/rg (AP, Reuters)