Barely two weeks into office, U.S. President Donald Trump has passed an executive order suspending the issuance of visas to citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen) for 90 days. According to Trump, this is a step toward safeguarding the U.S. from terror attacks. As a result of this decision, academics from these countries working in the U.S., are panic-stricken.
As one of the leading nations in research and development, the U.S. attracts hundreds of foreign students and researcher every year. However, Trump’s executive order has left researchers and students in limbo since many of them belong to the countries banned from entering the U.S. Those who wished to go back to their homelands were unable to leave while others who had valid documents to enter the U.S. were detained at airports. There is a looming feeling of uncertainty and anxiety among academics over the future of their careers as well as personal lives. Many researchers feel that the disregard shown to them is unfair. “We are a productive part of this community — and now we’re banned. They just consider us to be terrorists,” said Maryam Saeedi, an assistant professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University.
The ban is likely to affect disrupt scientific research activities in the country in many ways. Researchers from the banned countries will not be able to attend conferences. Selma de Mink, who is an astrophysicist at the University of Amsterdam, noted that her postdoctoral candidate would probably not be able to deliver a talk in an event in California, which could damage his career. In fact several academics are contemplating leaving the U.S. permanently due to the political turmoil. Neo Mohsenvand, an Iranian PhD student at MIT, echoed the sentiments of several researchers facing the same predicament: “Even with all the problems that we have there [Iran], it is still more desirable than the US because we don’t know what else can happen here”.
Protesting the President’s order, more than 7000 academics – including over 40 Nobel Laureates – signed an open letter titled “Academics Against Immigration Executive Order.” It decries the executive order calling it “inhumane, ineffective, and un-American,” while warning that it “significantly damages American leadership in higher education and research.” In addition, researchers have organized a March for Science in Washington D.C. on Earth Day i.e. 22 April to celebrate “passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community.” The march is being supported by scientific communities in eight European countries who plan to conduct similar rallies.
Overall, the academic landscape in the U.S. seems to be in a state of tumult. There was much skepticism among academics about Trump’s selection as a Presidential candidate, but this executive order may have widened the gap between him and the academics. It remains to be seen whether the efforts of the science community succeed in amending the President’s order.
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