If you thought Trump’s travel ban was controversial, take a look at some of these immigration bans

Hannah Ritchie; special to CNBC.com
A protester holds a sign and the American Flag as demonstrators gather to protest against President Donald Trump's executive order banning refugees and immigrants from seven primarily Muslim countries during a rally in Philadelphia, February 4, 2017.
Tom Mihalek | Reuters

As President Donald Trump attempts to appeal a series of federal court orders blocking his revised travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries, there are several other travel bans currently being enforced around the world; one which was passed as recently as March 2017.

Furthermore, if the new administration's ban does go ahead, it wouldn't be the first time America closed its doors to foreign visitors.

Current travel bans

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the countries listed below currently impose the following travel restrictions:

Middle East/Africa

Iran, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Sudan – which make up five of the six countries included in Trump's revised ban - all block the entry of Israeli passport holders into their countries. A policy upheld by 16 countries in total, all but one of which are Arab League nations, who don't officially recognize the state of Israel and actively choose to boycott it.

Iran, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Sudan are also among eight countries who impose even stricter restrictions on the state of Israel, and won't accept passports which contain Israeli visas or stamps.

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In 2015, Libya's "official" government also decided to ban entry to Yemenis, Pakistanis, Syrians, Palestinians, Iranians, Sudanese and Bangladeshis. The country's then top army commander Khalifa Haftar cited a need for greater "security and stability" in Libya as the reason behind the policy. Due to Libya's fractured political state and ongoing civil war though, there is no single authority in full control, and border policies are inconsistent.


On March 6, 2017, just hours after Donald Trump announced the outline of his revised executive order on immigration, Israeli lawmakers passed a travel ban of their own. Israel's policy doesn't target any particular ethnic group, but rather the law states that any foreign national "who has knowingly issued a public call to boycott the state of Israel or pledge to take part in such a boycott", will not be permitted entry.

The law is seen as targeting pro-Palestinian protesters or activists who have in the past held demonstrations inside Israel, and it also affects anyone who publicly disapproves of or undermines Israeli settlements.

Donald Trump’s travel ban wouldn’t be the first

Travel bans in US history

Banning the immigration or entry of certain ethnic, religious, or political groups into the U.S. on the grounds of "national security" is not a historically new concept, and since the late 19th-century there has been several instances where the American government has successfully done so.

Immigration only became a matter of federal regulation after the end of the American civil war in 1865. Prior to that, the flow of people was largely controlled on a state-by-state basis, due to slavery and the Confederate States wanting control over their human chattel.


The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first U.S. federal law which blocked the mass migration of a particular ethnic group. The law was passed to curb the flow of Chinese laborers into America due to fears that they were taking too many jobs, and was then modified to prohibit Chinese citizens who had left America from returning.

The act wasn't repealed until 1943 when China officially became a U.S. ally in World War II, and even then Chinese migrants were subjected to a competitive quota system in order to enter the country.

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The Immigration Act of 1917, which is also known as the "literacy act", was the next big federal law which prevented the migration of specific groups. After World War I the fear of Communism began to take hold of everyday Americans, and during the early 20th century millions of migrants were being processed on New York's Ellis Island.

As the ethnic mix of settlers from Europe diversified, the U.S. Congress responded by passing three key laws, each more restrictive than the last. The laws imposed literacy tests on immigrants and created a series of "undesirable" categories under which people could be considered "inadmissible", such as: "illiterates", "political radicals", "prostitutes", and "persons being mentally or physically defective." One section of the act also outlined an "Asiatic Barred Zone", which barred migration from most of Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Arabs, Asians and Europeans

The Johnson Reed Act of 1924 solidified America's return to nativism during the turn of the 20th century, and was aimed at preserving racial uniformity. Enacted May 26, 1924, the act drastically culled migration numbers by banning Arabs and Asians outright, and capping migration quotas further to reduce the total number of immigrants to 150,000 per year.

The chief author of the laws was Albert Johnson, a eugenicist who dabbled in racist pseudoscience and was head of The Eugenics Research Association. Johnson strongly opposed interracial marriage and supported sterilization of the mentally ill, and his scientific findings formed the basis of his immigration initiatives.

Johnson was confident that the act would fulfill its intended purpose, which was to end America's "indiscriminate acceptance of all races." The act remained one of the controlling forces behind U.S. immigration policy until 1965 when the Immigration and Nationality act was established. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the Johnson-Reed act during a 2015 interview with Breitbart's Stephen Bannon – who is now Donald Trump's chief strategist.


Donald Trump's original travel ban indefinitely banned entry to Syrian refugees due to security concerns, but has since been revised to consider Syrian refugees on a case-by-case basis. This is not dissimilar to how Jewish refugees were treated during World War II, as President Franklin D Roosevelt asserted that Jews fleeing Europe posed a serious threat to American national security, as Nazi spies could hide among them and infiltrate the country.

Under Roosevelt, the allowed number of German Jews who could be admitted into America dropped to 26,000 annually, and it is estimated that during Hitler's reign less than 25 percent of that quota was filled.