Immigration attorney Brendan Delaney summarises the issues for scientists affected by the US travel ban.
As the science community is well aware, US President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order on 27 January that restricts travel to the United States from citizens of seven countries – Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya. How does this impact scientists and researchers?
The initial rollout of the order was vague, and reports indicate that there had been little or no consultation with officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in terms of the drafts, publication and signing of this order. Thus, perhaps due to the lack of involvement of DHS, the interpretation and implementation of this order led to confusion among US border agents and others placed with admitting individuals to the United States over the weekend.
This confusion reigned when returning permanent residents – “green-card” holders — were subject to the order and denied admission to the United States. On 29 January, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, appearing on the morning TV show “Meet the Press,” indicated that green-card holders were not part of the ban. But it wasn’t until late on Sunday night that John Kelly, DHS Secretary, said that entry of “.. lawful permanent residents [is] in the national interest.” This statement means that green-card holders — absent the receipt of significant information indicating that they are a serious threat to public safety and welfare – are exempt from the travel ban and can be admitted.
While this may serve to clarify the issue for green-card holders, other scientists and researchers continue to face problems and issues with the Executive Order (EO). On a practical level, if you are from one of the seven countries affected and are residing in the United States in a temporary (or non-immigrant status) you should not currently make plans to travel outside the country even if you hold a valid visa in your passport.
In addition, there seem to be conflicting reports as to how this affects dual nationals (so if you are in fact a dual national of a country other than the United States and of one of the seven countries) you should probably err on the side of caution until this issue is clarified. However, this EO does not affect the current and ongoing status of individuals from the seven countries listed who are currently in the United States in a valid non-immigrant status. Currently this is a travel-related issue.
So how does this impact scientists and researchers?
Scientific collaboration (as I know from my professional dealings with many international scientists and researchers) has continued to expand internationally. There are many US-based scientists who are integrally involved in studies, projects, programs and other trials that require them to travel and be physically present in labs and institutions outside the United States. This ban affects the ability of individuals to be able to continue their work on these international projects.
Conferences and symposia
The international nature of scientific conferences and symposia will mean that certain individuals will be precluded from presenting, discussing and otherwise disseminating their research findings. When the dissemination and flow of information from scientists is limited, this can affect others in the field with regards to being able to apply, utilize and implement such findings.
Federal positions in US laboratories
At any given time, US research universities and institutions will be processing temporary visas for highly educated foreign national scientists to undertake important research in the United States. Anyone from the affected countries, who may have been selected and hired to come to the United States to undertake important scientific work, are now (in all likelihood) unable to enter the United States to commence their research. This will impact US federal labs, which, without vital employees, will now be unable to carry out research projects as they had planned.
From my own standpoint, I had to advise a client, a scientific researcher who had been in Tehran, Iran, over the weekend. As a green-card holder, he was ultimately admitted to the United States on Sunday evening. For a period of time, however, the status of his ability to gain re-entry was in a state of flux. He told me first-hand of the issues facing returning travellers – including that those without green cards were barred in Tehran from even boarding, while green-card holders were boarded at their own risk and copies of their travel documents were forwarded to their next airline for review.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups have filed lawsuits and earlier this week, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson became the first state official to sue the president over the issue. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has also been proactive in appraising how its members can assist individuals caught up at airports and other locations. We are in a wait-and-see mode and it is unknown whether the restriction will be broadened to include other countries. This is a fast-moving and fluid situation, and the immediate impact on the US scientific community cannot and should not be easily dismissed.