In an executive order issued on Friday night, President Donald Trump, temporarily barred citizens of seven countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen—from entering the US for 90 days, in addition to a 120-day freeze on the entry of all refugees. The order arrived with next to no warning and reportedly little guidance: People in transit with valid visas, asylum claims, or even green cards were stopped at airports and blocked from entering the country. Public backlash to the order then led to multiple protests throughout the country, particularly at airports, and several judges quickly issued orders blocking federal agents from enforcing parts of the order, and several lawsuits have been filed to challenge the ban’s legality, including by the attorneys general of Washington State and Massachusetts.
On Sunday night, the Department of Homeland Security clarified that the order did not bar the entry of lawful permanent residents, but green card holders and dual citizens may undergo additional screening and it is still not entirely clear how the order will be applied to them. Some companies, particularly in the tech sector, which employs a large immigrant workforce, have recalled foreign-born employees to the US, cancelled planned business trips, or advised them against leaving the country in response to the ban. Numerous companies have issued statements to their workforces as well, offering assistance to affected employees.
The DHS intends to continue enforcing the order notwithstanding the legal challenges to it, but there are several unknowns at the moment, including whether it will hold up in court, whether it will be evenly enforced, and whether it portends more significant changes to US immigration policy. While this order affects roughly 90,000 people from specific countries for a limited period of time, the possibility or expectation of an expanded or extended ban could have an unpredictable impact on hiring, immigration, business travel, tourism, and academia. As Melanie Zanona explains at The Hill, while the given rationale for the executive order was increasing America’s border security, obtaining a balance between the Trump Administration’s stated goals and the needs of American businesses and institutions may prove difficult. Indeed, the order may even discourage foreigners — and not just from the affected countries — from attending American universities and applying for American jobs, which could have a disproportionate impact on the technology, healthcare, and transportation industries.
The Los Angeles Times spoke with an immigration lawyer who has been trying to help those affected by the ban:
“I have clients [from the listed countries] who are on investor visas wondering if they can come back to manage their investments, and the answer is no,” said Reaz Jafri, an immigration attorney at Withers Bergman who spent the weekend fielding panicked calls from corporate clients.
“Some of these companies are multinational firms. They can’t bring in people from overseas. They can’t let people in the U.S. leave. It’s going to have an immediate financial effect.”
The academic world also looks to be particularly hard hit by the ban, as Pacific Standard’s Jared Keller explains that around 16,000 international students (out of a total of 975,000) will be affected by the order, with many potential negative ramifications for universities:
Assuming an average college tuition of $33,500, that’s more than $540 million slipping through the fingers of the higher education community. Yes, it’s a small sum compared to the $31 billion in Pell grants American universities received in 2014. But that’s just in terms of college funding: According to a report from the Migration Policy Institute, international students contributed more than $30.5 billion to the U.S. economy.
He adds that students won’t be the only ones impacted either:
[Professors and researchers are] vital assets to the research labs and academic institutions that help shape the economies of university cities like Boston and New York. And while some scientists who fled persecution in countries such as Iran and Syria have been spared diplomatic limbo thanks to the courts, academic institutions are scrambling to ensure that they maintain their hold on some of the brightest minds on the planet, advising against international travel and, in some cases, offering mild sanctuary protections.
For the affected students and scholars, the Atlantic’s Ed Yong adds, the travel restrictions may be debilitating:
“Professional and personal lives are being destroyed,” says Josh Plotkin from the University of Pennsylvania. One of his postdoctoral fellows—an Iranian, and a legal permanent resident of the U.S.—was traveling abroad when Trump’s order was signed. “They are now separated from their spouse, and likely unable to attend faculty job interviews that are scheduled in the coming weeks. This postdoc was working on new ways to treat HIV/AIDS.”
Others who are in the country are effectively trapped. They can’t leave, lest they be denied re-entry. Indeed, many are being told to stay put by their institutions. On Friday afternoon, MIT sent an email to its international scholars advising them to “consider postponing any travel outside of the U.S.” until the executive orders had been clarified. Harvard University sent a similar email late Saturday, adding that since “the executive order also contemplates that additional countries could be added to the banned list … all foreign nationals should carefully assess whether it is worth the risk to travel outside the country.”
A change that makes it harder for scientists and students from certain countries to come to the US may have longer-term consequences for the American science community, Henry Fountain points out at the New York Times, as global talent opts to work and study elsewhere:
“Immigration into the United States is tremendously important to science,” said Soumya Raychaudhuri, a Harvard Medical School professor whose Iranian postdoctoral researcher, Samira Asgari, was barred on Saturday from boarding a flight to begin her job in his laboratory at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “There are other countries competing for this talent pool, and walking away from that jeopardizes our standing.”
Some foreign universities, while condemning the ban, also pointed out that they still welcomed students and researchers from anywhere. The University of British Columbia announced the establishment of a task force, with an initial budget of 250,000 Canadian dollars (about $190,000), “to determine what assistance the university can offer those affected.”
Canada was already jumping at the chance to attract more highly-skilled immigrants in response to increasing anti-immigrant sentiment and policies in the US and UK, and has offered temporary residency to travelers stuck in Canada because of the new ban. Meanwhile, Asian countries and companies are looking for ways to capitalize on Trump’s order by courting tourists and students as many would-be travelers to the US reassess their plans, Reuters’ Praveen Menon and Shashank Chouhan report:
In Muslim-majority Malaysia, the group CEO of Asia’s largest budget airline, AirAsia, suggested countries in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) could cash in. “With the world now getting more isolationist it’s time for ASEAN to start making it easier for tourists to come,” Tony Fernandes said in a tweet on Tuesday. … In neighboring Thailand, tourism officials said the U.S. ban could lift visitor numbers. …
Some education providers had seen early signs of an impact. Ajay Mital, director at International Placewell Consultants in New Delhi, which places Indian students in universities abroad, said Germany and Singapore had stepped up efforts to recruit students. Prospective students were worried that, even if they were able to go to the United States for education, they would not get a job at the end of their studies with the tighter work visa rules that the new administration has said it may bring in.
That’s why Huffington Post editor Sam Stein fears Trump may have laid the groundwork for a serious brain drain problem:
Scientific consortiums and organizations are planning to move conferences overseas for fear that they couldn’t have full attendance under the constructs of Trump’s order. The International Astronomical Union urged U.S. officials to reconsider their screening measures, noting that they had hosted a conference in Hawaii in 2015 with about 3,000 astronomers, including some from the seven targeted countries. Wendy Naus, executive director of the Consortium of Social Science Associations, said that, on a phone call to discuss the executive order Monday morning, two members of a group of scientific societies pushed to move their conferences to Canada.
“People are scrambling right now in the scientific community to figure out all the ways it plays out and what it means for grad students, innovation and the private sector,” Naus said. “If it is a glitch or a blip, and the outrage is heard and things go back, the damage isn’t done. But if it is the new normal, then, yeah, we are risking our competitive advantage. These are fundamentally things we’ve never confronted before.”