The meaning of “bona fide relationship” was not precisely explained, and the phrase has created much uncertainty for migrants and others seeking to travel to the United States from the six countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — covered by the revised travel ban that President Trump issued in March. (An earlier version of the ban included Iraq.)
The Trump administration has now made the definition explicit.
According to a diplomatic cable obtained by The New York Times, “close family” is “defined as a parent (including parent-in-law), spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, sibling, whether whole or half. This includes step relationships.”
But it went on to state that “close family” does not include “grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-laws and sisters-in-law, fiancés and any other ‘extended’ family members.”
It is not clear how the administration arrived at the new definitions.
Under existing law, Americans may petition for immigration visas for “immediate relatives” — defined as the parents, spouses and children (under 21) of United States citizens.
Other relatives may be granted immigration visas, but there is a ranking of preferences, and the visas are subject to numerical limitations: first, unmarried adult children of citizens; then spouses and children (under 21) of permanent residents; then married adult children of American citizens; and, finally, siblings of adult American citizens. But those definitions apply to people seeking to immigrate — not merely to visit.
A bona fide relationship with a “U.S. entity,” according to the cable, “must be formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading the E.O.,” or executive order.
The new guidelines make clear that someone who has accepted a job offer from a company in the United States or an invitation to deliver a lecture at an American university may enter, but that a nonprofit group may not seek out citizens of the affected countries and count them as clients for the purpose of getting around the ban.
“Also, a hotel reservation, whether or not paid, would not constitute a bona fide relationship with an entity in the United States,” the guidelines note.
Immigration rights advocates who had challenged the travel ban in court said the ruling this week meant the vast majority of people seeking to enter the United States to visit a relative, accept a job, attend a university or deliver a speech would still be able to do so.
But Omar Jadwat, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s immigrants’ rights project, said on Thursday the new guidelines troubled him, particularly as they could be read as creating arbitrary definitions of family relationships.
“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,’ ” he said. “These reports are deeply concerning.”
If the United States immediately starts enforcing new rules, Mr. Jadwat said, “it means that everybody is going to be in the situation of kind of scrambling to understand whatever they put out, and work through the issues.”
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the status of parents-in-law in the Trump administration’s new definition of “close family.” They are included in that category, not excluded.