The United States issued about 40 percent fewer temporary visas in March to citizens of seven countries covered by President Donald Trump's temporary travel bans than it did in an average month last year, according to a Reuters analysis of preliminary government data released on Thursday.
At the same time, the data showed that the total of U.S. non-immigrant visas issued to people from all countries was up by nearly 5 percent in March compared to the 2016 monthly average.
Citizens of the seven Muslim-majority nations under the bans - Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen - received about 3,200 non-immigrant visas in March 2017, compared to about 5,700 on average per month during the 2016 fiscal year and more than 6,000 on average per month in 2015 and 2014. Trump's travel bans were later blocked by the courts.
The State Department released the data to comply with a directive from Trump asking it to publish monthly breakdowns of the number of visas issued around the world. The department did not release data on the total number of all types of visa applications, so it is unclear whether the lower number of temporary visas for citizens of the seven countries is because of a higher rate of rejections or other factors, such as fewer applicants or slower processing times.
A State Department official noted that "visa demand is cyclical, not uniform throughout the year, and affected by various factors at the local and international level. Visa issuance numbers tend to increase during peak travel seasons, such as during the summer and the winter holidays."
March is neither a busy nor slow time for temporary visa issuances to people from the seven countries, several immigration lawyers said. Therefore, the significant drops are notable, they said. The data is preliminary and numbers could be subject to minor revision, the State Department said.
Previously, such data was only available in aggregate by fiscal year, and the department declined to break out March visa data from previous years.
Nevertheless, some immigration attorneys said the numbers released on Thursday provide a glimpse into how Trump's policies are affecting visa decisions.
"Either there are many fewer people applying because they believe they will be denied, or a much higher rate of denials is already happening even though the executive orders have been blocked," said William Stock, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.