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US cable: Grandmas, grandpas from travel ban states now welcome

A memo from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson limiting the travel ban was sent to all overseas diplomatic posts after a Hawaii judge's ruling
People take part in a rally to protest restrictive guidelines issued by the US on who qualifies as a close familial relationship under the Supreme Court order on the Muslim and refugee ban at Union Square in New York on 29 June 2017 (AFP)

Grandparents of US citizens from six Muslim-majority countries are now eligible to receive US visas, according to a State Department memo seen by Reuters that reflects the latest court ruling on US President Donald Trump's travel ban.

The memo, or cable, from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was sent to all US diplomatic posts overseas on Friday after a US district judge in Hawaii issued a ruling late on Thursday limiting the scope of the administration's temporary ban on refugees and travellers from the six countries.

US District Judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu found the government cannot bar grandparents and other relatives of United States citizens from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from getting visas under the ban.

Watson declined to put his ruling on hold pending appeal, meaning it went into effect immediately. The administration has asked the Supreme Court and San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals to block the decision.

The 14 July cable updated the definition of "close family" that are exempt from the temporary travel ban laid down in Trump's 6 March executive order.

The cable reversed the State Department's previous, narrow definition of close family and stated that "grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, and cousins" are eligible for visas.

Consulates and embassies do not need to re-open any visa applications refused under the prior, narrower definition of close family members, the cable said.

Between 10 March and 17 March, Tillerson issued four cables, originally giving instructions on implementing the travel ban, then rescinding much of his guidance because of court rulings and because it had been issued without approval from the White House Office of Management and Budget.

In another reversal, the State Department had originally interpreted the Supreme Court's 26 June ruling to exclude fiancés, saying they do not count as a close family relationship eligible for an exemption to the travel ban. Just before the 90-day travel ban was to take effect on 29 June, the State Department said fiancés would be counted as close family.

"These guys (consular officers) have had enough whiplash over the past six, seven months but they continue to fulfil their role, which is to process visa applications," said Stephen Pattison, a former State Department consular official now working as an immigration attorney. "The people who are really getting whiplash are the people in the Department who are responsible for formulating the policy, getting it approved and getting it sent out."

A State Department official declined to comment on internal communications.

"We regularly provide updated operational instructions to our embassies and consulates around the world to ensure that our consular officers are using the most up-to-date vetting procedures as they adjudicate visas," the official said on condition of anonymity.

"We are processing visa applications for nationals of the six affected countries as directed by the Executive Order and to the extent permitted by court decisions," the official said.

Last month the Supreme Court partially revived the 6 March ban that had been blocked by lower courts. It said the ban could take effect, but people with a "bona fide relationship" to a US person or entity could not be barred.