Visa Suspension – What does it mean for Cambodians?

The Department of Homeland Security has started the process for suspending the issuance of visas to citizens and nationals of 4 countries, including Cambodia. A rarely used law, section 243(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, authorizes the Secretary of State to suspend the issuance of visas to citizens of countries which refuse to accept returning citizens of that country who were ordered deported.

Under INA Section 243(d), the process begins with the Secretary of Homeland Security notifying the Secretary of State that a particular country has refused to accept its citizens who have been ordered deported.  The Secretary of State then begins the process for suspending visa issuance.  The law gives the Secretary of State discretion on how to implement the suspension. The Secretary may suspend issuance of immigrant visas (visas to come to the U.S. as a permanent resident), or non-immigrant visas (visas to come to the U.S. temporarily, such as student visas, business visas or visitor’s visas) or both.

The suspension does not take place immediately.  “We follow a standard process to implement a visa suspension as expeditiously as possible in the manner the Secretary determines most appropriate under the circumstances to achieve the desired goal,” the State Department said in a statement. “That process includes internal discussions with, and official notification to, affected countries. We are not going to get ahead of that process.” During any period that visa issuance is suspended, the consular posts in the affected countries should continue to receive cases, and to adjudicate cases.  Consular officers will explain the suspension of issuance to the applicants.  Visa fees will not be refunded.  Once the suspension is lifted, cases that were approved will be reviewed again to ensure the applicant is still eligible for the visa.

This law has only been used twice.  In 2001, it was used against Guyana and in 2016 it was used against The Gambia.  In both cases, the Secretary of State decided to suspend only the issuance of visas to officials of the government in question and their familiesImmigrant and non-immigrant visas for ordinary citizens of the countries were not affected. The Secretary of State has given no indication as to how he intends to implement the law against the 4 countries who are the subject of the current DHS request.