According to BBC News:

A 90-day suspension on anyone arriving from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, except certain visa categories such as diplomats.

Is there any objective reason with factual criteria and evidence based on which these countries were selected?

It is easy to speculate, in particular for opponents, such as some have done by pointing at Trump's business interests. But my question is if this list is officially, publicly motivated by any factual evidence.

  • 1
    I suspect it's related to countries which the US has designated as State Sponsors of Terrorism: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_Sponsors_of_Terrorism
    – Golden Cuy
    Jan 28, 2017 at 11:26
  • 2
    @AndrewGrimm Those lists do not appear to match.
    – gerrit
    Jan 28, 2017 at 11:51
  • 4
    @KDog I will look up some sources on the September 11 attackers later, if that satisfies you (apart from that, immigrant terrorism in the USA is negligible).
    – gerrit
    Jan 28, 2017 at 13:32
  • 4
    > immigrant terrorism in the USA is negligible. what's negligible is up to the victims to decide. to me, even one is too many, especially when it is preventable.
    – dannyf
    Jan 28, 2017 at 13:56
  • 2
    @Mostafa when someone says "My gut" it's not meant to be a referenced claim, just a supposition.
    – user9790
    Jan 28, 2017 at 19:20

5 Answers 5


Because Congress and the Obama administration said so. From the official Department of Homeland Security announcement:

Pursuant to the Act, the Secretary of Homeland Security had sixty days to determine whether additional countries or areas of concern should be subject to the travel or dual nationality restrictions under the Act. After careful consideration, and in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security has determined that Libya, Somalia, and Yemen be included as countries of concern, specifically for individuals who have traveled to these countries since March 1, 2011.

And later

The addition of these three countries is indicative of the Department’s continued focus on the threat of foreign fighters.

I don't know if there is an official reason why the first four countries were included by Congress, but this is the officially-announced reason the more recent three were added by the Obama administration.

It is not explicitly stated, but the Trump administration presumably added their restrictions to these countries because they were already restricted. These are the seven countries identified in accordance with the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 for additional travel restrictions.

Note: for those who are unconvinced that the seven countries are from the Visa Waiver Program, here is the relevant text from the executive order, Section 3(c):

To temporarily reduce investigative burdens on relevant agencies during the review period described in subsection (a) of this section, to ensure the proper review and maximum utilization of available resources for the screening of foreign nationals, and to ensure that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists or criminals, pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of aliens from countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12), would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and I hereby suspend entry into the United States, as immigrants and on immigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of this order (excluding those foreign nationals traveling on diplomatic visas, North Atlantic Treaty Organization visas, C-2 visas for travel to the United Nations, and G-1, G-2, G-3, and G4 visas).

The "section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12)" refers to the Visa Waiver Program "countries of concern." These are Iraq, Syria, and five countries specified elsewhere. I already included the specification of Libya, Somalia, and Yemen above. Here's the relevant portion of the US Code:

(12) Not present in Iraq, Syria, or any other country or area of concern
(A) In generalExcept as provided in subparagraphs (B) and (C)—
(i) the alien has not been present, at any time on or after March 1, 2011—
(I) in Iraq or Syria;
(II) in a country that is designated by the Secretary of State under section 4605(j) of title 50 (as continued in effect under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.)), section 2780 of title 22, section 2371 of title 22, or any other provision of law, as a country, the government of which has repeatedly provided support of acts of international terrorism; or
(III) in any other country or area of concern designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security under subparagraph (D); and
(ii) regardless of whether the alien is a national of a program country, the alien is not a national of—
(I) Iraq or Syria;
(II) a country that is designated, at the time the alien applies for admission, by the Secretary of State under section 4605(j) of title 50 (as continued in effect under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.)), section 2780 of title 22, section 2371 of title 22, or any other provision of law, as a country, the government of which has repeatedly provided support of acts of international terrorism; or
(III) any other country that is designated, at the time the alien applies for admission, by the Secretary of Homeland Security under subparagraph (D).

The executive order builds on the existing restrictions from these countries and does not itself specify any countries except that the Syrian refugee program is suspended indefinitely. Other than that, it applies to the countries singled out by the VWP Act.

  • 2
    This is the only correct answer here in that this is the only official connection that has been stated by the current administration.
    – user1530
    Jan 30, 2017 at 18:12
  • This answer is mostly useful, but missing an explanation of what this list has to do with the Visa Waiver Program, for which are eligible citizens of entirely unrelated countries.
    – gerrit
    Jan 31, 2017 at 14:43
  • Ummm - that announcement, made in February of 2016, stated, specifically, that there was a 60-day window that they were using in making that determination. It clearly does not apply to this action. Jan 31, 2017 at 17:48
  • @PoloHoleSet What does the sixty days have to do with anything? Trump didn't add any countries in this executive order. He just used the four set by Congress plus the three chosen within the sixty days. As you note, Trump couldn't change the seven countries if he wanted to do so. He can only change the restrictions under which they operate.
    – Brythan
    Jan 31, 2017 at 18:15
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    @PoloHoleSet The law in question (from the Obama administration) bans individuals who have either been present in or have a dual nationality in the listed countries from participating in the Visa Waiver Program, even if they have a nationality that would normally be eligible for VWP. The same list (established in 8 USC 1187(a)(12)) is what was explicitly used by the EO for the list of countries. There was no list of countries actually in the EO itself.
    – reirab
    Feb 9, 2017 at 19:40

This (opiniated) piece in the National Review explains how the list of countries in this ban is related to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens from specific countries to travel to the USA without obtaining a visa. This list currently includes 38 countries; mostly western European and other wealthy countries; see the map below. The VWP also contains a list of banned countries: if any citizen of a VWP country has recently visited a banned country, he or she is no longer eligible for a visa waiver and must obtain a visa for entering the USA.

VWP from Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia.

What the Trump executive order has done is to refer to this list and give it an entirely different meaning. The 2011 law does not relate to citizens of banned countries; Trumps bans only relates to citizens of these countries (and possibly non-citizens born there).

Citing the aforementioned piece in the National Review:

Trump’s executive order also expressly relies on an Obama-era provision of the immigration law, Section 1187(a)(12), which governs the Visa Waiver Program. This statute empowers the executive branch to waive the documentation requirements for certain aliens. In it, Congress itself expressly discriminates based on country of origin.

Under this provision, Congress provides that an alien is eligible for the waiver only if he or she has not been present (a) in Iraq or Syria any time after March 1, 2011; (b) in any country whose government is designated by the State Department as “repeatedly provid[ing] support for acts of international terrorism”; or (c) in any country that has been designated by the Department of Homeland Security as a country “of concern.”

  • The 2011 law does relate to citizens of the "ban" countries, or at least of some of them because people who hold citizenship in both a VWP country and one of four of the ban countries (Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria) may not participate in the VWP even if they've never been present in any of the seven ban countries.
    – phoog
    May 26, 2017 at 14:02

Trump is attempting to prevent the next terrorist threat. Not stop ones that occurred in the 90s. To use a hockey metaphor, you need to skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it used to be.

The nation states that Trump temporarily banned either are in the midst of a refugee crisis with infiltration of radicals amongst them or are failed states which has caused practical issues with vetting, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Sudan, have imported to the US in recent years terrorists or terrorist supporters, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, or are on the list of states that officially sponsor terrorism, Sudan, Iran, and Syria, or a combination.

Note that Saudi Arabia doesn't fall into these categories. Egypt either. And while these are observations, I think they are fairly compelling enough to point to a rationale why these countries were banned and not others.

Here is Trump's statement in full, and I think the reasoning above and evidence below supports it:

I'm establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. We don't want them here. We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas. We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people. We will never forget the lessons of 9/11 nor the heroes who lost at the Pentagon. They were the best of us. We will honor them not only with our words, but with our actions, and that's what we're doing today.

The executive action reads:

Deteriorating conditions in certain countries due to war, strife, disaster, and civil unrest increase the likelihood that terrorists will use any means possible to enter our country

Somalia-Civil War

Minnesota is the new home for most Somali immigrants. And there is a problem with them some of them joining and abetting ISIS.

The case lay at the intersection of immigration, Islam, and terrorism and, coincidentally, ended the week following the victory of President-elect Donald Trump. To borrow a Trumpian term, the “Minnesota men," as media generically referred to a circle of Somali-American ISIS supporters, are bad hombres. At a campaign stop in Minneapolis on November 6, Trump delivered the message that we "have seen firsthand the problems with faulty refugee vetting, with large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state, without your knowledge, without your support or approval." It was the sons of some who sought refuge in the United States from the bloodshed in their native land who became enamored of the idea of causing more of it.

The first "Minnesota men" were indicted in April 2015; eventually 10 in total were charged with seeking to leave the United States to join ISIS in Syria.

Syria-Civil War

There are several problems with the Syrian refugee vetting process. Some administration officials have complained. But there are still glitches. The LA Times reports that federal officials have to reopen many of the cases. This reporting occurred 1/25/2017 so it is very fresh.

Federal agents are reinvestigating the backgrounds of dozens of Syrian refugees already in the United States after discovering a lapse in vetting that allowed some who had potentially negative information in their files to enter the country, two U.S. law enforcement officials said.

Agents have not concluded that any of the refugees should have been rejected for entry, but the apparent glitch — which was discovered in late 2015 and corrected last year — prevented U.S. officials who conducted background checks on the refugees from learning about possible “derogatory” information about them, the two officials said. At a minimum, the intelligence would have triggered further investigation that could have led some asylum applications to be rejected.

Iraq-Fighting ISIS

Fox News reports about actual terrorists coming from Iraq last year.

Two Iraqi men who allegedly lied their way past U.S. immigration officials and continued their terrorist-related activities after being admitted as refugees are the latest evidence that a flawed screening process is putting Americans at risk, critics say. Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab, 23, moved to the U.S. in 2012, only to return to the Middle East twice to fight for Al Nursra, was allegedly recorded by the FBI boasting about executing members of the Syrian Army and their Russian allies. Wiretaps, made while he moved from Arizona to Wisconsin and then California, captured him stating he wanted to return to Syria because he was "eager to see blood.”

CBS News found other examples of the failed Iraqi vetting process.

And ABC found more Iraqis terrorists in Kentucky.


Libya is now a failed state, "devoid of a functioning government" according to the Telegraph. Little chance that they can partner effectively in determining terrorist ties before entering the U.S.

Sudan (al Qaeda haven) and Iran and Syria

These countries are states that sponsor terrorism as defined by the US State department. Being so designated points to difficulties in partnering with them on proper vetting. Also they can be home to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, like Sudan is.

Yemen--Proxy war Saudi Arabia and Iran

Yemen's own refugee camps have become compromised. Telegraph states

Yemeni officials have claimed that members of the al-Shabaab terrorist group have been arrested in refugee camps for Somalis. The government fears that refugee camps such as Al-Kharaz, which now houses 18,000 out of an estimated 2-300,000 Somali refugees in Yemen, could become recruiting grounds for radicals.

Officials also claim there are “regular links”, including arms transfers between al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group accused of planting parcel bombs on planes last month.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are more problematic

The deadliest single attack was at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last June, which left 49 dead. The man responsible was Omar Mateen, whose parents were from Afghanistan, though he was born New York. Afghanistan is not on the White House list.

In a few cases, foreign-born nationals have carried out lethal attacks. They include Tashfeen Malik, who, along with her husband, was responsible for the San Bernardino, Ca., shooting that claimed 14 lives in December 2015. She was born in Pakistan, but spent most of her life in Saudi Arabia until she came to the U.S. in 2014 on a fiancée visa to marry Syed Rizwan Farook. He was born in Chicago, to a family originally from Pakistan. Neither Pakistan nor Saudi Arabia are on the White House list.

  • 15
    You're citing evidence that there exist terrorists in each of those countries, and that some of those have sought to travel to the USA and succeeded, neither of which are contested statements. The same can be said for many countries not on Trumps list. Is there a public document outlining what sets those countries apart from others (Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan), or is yours speculation?
    – gerrit
    Jan 28, 2017 at 17:53
  • 11
    Would you please elaborate more on Iran specifically? Iran is arguably the most stable country in the MidEast, with zero number of terrorists, participating in terrorist attacks in Western countries (not just US, as far as I know) produced in the past (although sponsoring groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon financially), and sending far more people (goo.gl/Cs9pf7) to the US than others (lots of them being graduate students). Putting it next to Syria and Sudan which are literally struggling with civil war and chaos doesn't make much sense to me, especially when it comes to a ban on Visas.
    – Mostafa
    Jan 28, 2017 at 18:07
  • 5
    Is there any evidence that Iran has ever sponsored a terrorist attack on US soil?
    – gerrit
    Jan 28, 2017 at 18:15
  • 9
    @KDog Please read my comment again. Iran is financially sponsoring groups like Hizbollah (which, by the way are fighting against those groups that have committed terrorist attacks on US soil). It is not home to any known terrorist individual, as opposed to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE, among others. Logically, this calls for the (currently imposed) financial sanctions, not a visa ban on the individuals.
    – Mostafa
    Jan 28, 2017 at 18:39
  • 8
    Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism in the same sense as Cuba used to be, it's a purely political designation that has nothing to do with any actual acts of terrorism. Jan 29, 2017 at 3:01
  • I don't understand; what do those countries have to do with the Visa Waiver Program? They all need visas.
    – gerrit
    Jan 31, 2017 at 2:26
  • @gerrit: You are leaving out an important word... improvement. It's the Visa Waiver Program Improvement... You are also leaving out the second phrase... Terrorist Travel Prevention... Both are key to understanding its purpose as they are descriptive. Jan 31, 2017 at 2:31
  • Oh, they do two different things in one act. I thought the second one was somehow related to the first.
    – gerrit
    Jan 31, 2017 at 11:40
  • @gerrit what those countries have to do with the VWP is that there are citizens of VWP countries who have traveled to them, or who are also nationals of one of four of them (Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria). My understanding is that the change was (at least in part) a reaction to cases in which EU citizens became "radicalized" and traveled to "hot spots" to train in terrorist methods. Whether that is officially stated anywhere I do not know.
    – phoog
    May 26, 2017 at 14:06

The countries Trump is banning are the ones he has active military actions in: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Islam is in every country in the world.

The recent America-EU attacks had citizens from Pakistan (San Berndino, CA), France and Tunisia. Countries with Islam, although not as majority.

I think Trump fears retaliations from the banned countries as a consequence for US military incursions into those areas. Islam in itself is not the real reason as real Islamic attacks are not coming from those nations. Blow back because of economic loss, family loss or nationalistic pride could come from the banned countries though.

Much the same as Japanese intern camps in Canada and US during WW II, setting up enemy intern camps (refugee camps in today's language) in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Greece keeps ethnicity of warring nations (even if war wasn't officially declared) at bay.

Hopefully we'll soon discover the names of the deep-state people who economically benefit from waging wars using the naive US military in the banned countries. A time will come when the US military will be co-opted and actions will turned within instead of outside.

  • 2
    I don't think that's accurate. US has no active military actions in Iran, but does have in Afghanistan.
    – gerrit
    Jan 29, 2017 at 11:32
  • They are constantly threatening Iran and have ships in Strait of Hormuz that fire warning shots. They have actions but they are non-lethal so far. They are prepared for invasion with lots of war assets in the region. Diplomatically they are frowned upon since the US approved/appointed Shaw of Iran was overthrown in the 70s. Jan 29, 2017 at 16:11
  • Please back up those claims with some evidence. I don't think Iran/Persia has invaded another country in the past several hundred years.
    – gerrit
    Jan 29, 2017 at 17:33
  • @gerrit - Their proxies (paid for, trained by, and directed by them) have. There's a reason criminal codes apply to people who hire someone to hit a target, and not just the hitman.
    – user4012
    Jan 30, 2017 at 21:29
  • 1
    @user4012 Yes, the government of Iran pays Hezbollah who fight against Israel, and incidentally also against Islamic State. Not against the USA. And even if they did, banning entry to Iranian nationals clearly does nothing to stop the Iranian government from paying non-Iranians to do bad stuff. My Iranian friend in California happens to be an atheist, we'll see if the Trump administration recognises that as a "religious minority" and grants him and his family special status.
    – gerrit
    Jan 30, 2017 at 23:30

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