Rubio joins an ever-growing bloc of lawmakers pushing for travel restrictions for people coming from West Africa. So far, 72 House members and 15 senators support a blanket travel ban from countries battling Ebola.
But as Kaveh Waddell wrote last week, it's hard to say how the U.S. government would go about imposing such a ban. U.S. airport hubs are already screening passengers for fever and other Ebola symptoms, and health experts have said that an outright ban would not be feasible. That's because people traveling from West Africa to North America often take circuitous, multi-leg routes, making it more difficult to track their travel.
That's where the visa ban would come into play. "Banning new U.S. visas for Liberian, Sierra Leonean, or Guinean nationals would make it hard for those people to evade detection, because it would restrict their entry to the U.S. no matter where their journey begins," The Wall Street Journal reports.
There are also economic considerations to take into account. President Obama's administration has insisted until now that a travel ban is unnecessary, in part because of the limited spread of the disease to the U.S. If the White House suddenly said that a travel ban is necessary, that could send shock waves through the stock market and create public panic.
Perhaps for that reason, the State Department has shot down the visa ban idea as well as an outright travel ban.
"There are no plans to suspend visa operations at this time. We can't control this epidemic through the visa process," State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said on Monday. "If you end legitimate means of travel out of West Africa, it could result in people's smuggling and illicit ways of people traveling, which would just make it harder for us to track sick people, to prevent them from crossing borders."
If you are a citizen of Liberia, Guinea, or Sierra Leone, you can't come to the U.S. unless you have some type of visa. Depending on the type of visa, Liberian and Guinean travelers can stay in the U.S. anywhere from one month to 10 years. Immigrants from Sierra Leone can stay in the U.S. on a visa up to five years.
The incubation period for Ebola, by comparison, is roughly 21 days. During that period, someone with the disease would not necessarily show detectable symptoms—in a blood test or with a fever. The upside is that, someone who is not showing symptoms of the disease cannot spread the disease. While no Ebola patients have been proven to infect others by coughing or sneezing, The New York Times reports that patients "emit copious amounts of highly infectious vomit, blood, and diarrhea."
A visa ban isn't close to a perfect solution. A hypothetical: If an American citizen unknowingly contracted Ebola while visiting Liberia, then traveled to the U.S. without exhibiting symptoms, she wouldn't need a visa to get back across the border before her symptoms began to manifest. But if you're a Liberian citizen who has been living in Europe, with absolutely no contact with the virus, you could be stopped by the visa ban if you try to travel to the U.S.