Universities in US and Europe denounce new travel ban

Universities in the United States and Europe have spoken out against President Donald Trump’s new travel ban issued on 6 March, voicing alarm at the impact it will have on international students but also on the US’s ability to attract the best talent.

Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities or AAU, which represents 62 leading institutions, said the new order, “like its predecessor, poses a fundamental long-term threat to America’s global leadership in higher education, research, and innovation.”

Jill Welch, deputy executive director for public policy of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, said: “Although the revised executive order makes some changes, the concerns NAFSA raised about the first executive order still remain. The new policy undermines the nation’s long-held values and makes America less safe by issuing a blanket ban on entire nations.”

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities, which represents 400 US colleges and universities, in a statement, said: “The president’s new executive order on immigration remains overly broad in scope and threatens to adversely impact higher education in America.”

Trump revised and reissued a travel ban on 6 March, this time barring new visas to people from six predominantly Muslim countries, Somalia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen for 90 days, and suspending the US refugee programme for 120 days.

It marked a softening of the original executive order by removing Iraq from the list of countries and removing language that gave priority to religious minorities.

It also says current visa holders will not be affected.

Although the travel ban now only affects 15,000 out of a million international students studying in the country – and around 12,000 of those come from Iran – like its predecessor it is continuing to damage America’s reputation internationally.

The European University Association or EUA, representing 850 universities in 47 European countries, issued a statement saying it is “deeply concerned about the spirit of US President Donald Trump’s new travel ban and its potential implications on the free flow of people and ideas”.

“Closing off borders is counter to the ethos of universities and obstructs research and the crucial circulation of people,” said EUA Secretary General Lesley Wilson. “Movement is vital for knowledge and we must stand in favour of open borders and the flow of ideas.”

Legal challenge

The White House spokesperson, Sean Spicer, said on Thursday that the administration believed the revised ban would stand up to legal challenge.

"We feel very confident with how that was crafted and the input that was given," he said.

After federal judge James L Robart suspended the first executive order, Trump tweeted: “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned.”

However, legal challenges to the revised travel ban issued by President Trump are growing after Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who successfully sued to block the first executive order, asked a federal judge to affirm that the suspension of the initial ban applies to the new one, the Washington Post reported.

Hawaii state has separately initiated its own lawsuit.

A judge has granted a request by Oregon state to join Washington and Minnesota in the case and New York has reportedly asked to join Washington’s effort. Massachusetts has also indicated that it will join other states in challenging the ban.

Other states reported to have filed briefs supporting Washington’s initial law suit include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.

Lasting damage

Universities said the new order, although including improvements, would cause lasting damage to US higher education.

For the AAU, Mary Sue Coleman said: “Among other things, the new order will still limit entry of thousands of gifted students and faculty from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen who wish to come to the United States to study, teach, and conduct cutting-edge research and scholarship.”

She said: “Perhaps most alarmingly, this order conveys the same damaging message to talented people from the six affected countries, as well as others: you are no longer welcome here. This message is especially clear in the absence of a statement by the president that America needs to remain the destination of choice for the world’s most talented students, scientists, engineers, and scholars."

She said the US’s economic competitiveness and global leadership would not be possible without the extraordinary flow of international talent that has been drawn to it for many decades by academic opportunity and American values.

“Actions that place our values and our status in doubt are likely to cause serious lasting harm.”

Jill Welch of NAFSA said the previous executive order on 27 January caused enormous collateral damage as students and scholars were suddenly stranded abroad, and “prospective students and scholars around the world are questioning whether the United States has lost its place as a nation that welcomes individuals”.

She said: “Today’s order [the order of 6 March] continues to cause confusion and uncertainty about whether other countries will be added to the list in the future and raises issues for students who will be applying for visas in the months to come.”

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities or AASCU, in a statement, said that despite the improvement over the original order, the new order remains too broad in scope.

“While we understand and respect the president’s stated goal of securing our homeland, we also believe that a categorical ban on the entry of individuals based purely on national origin will undermine the ability of our public institutions to attract the best minds to teach and study at our state colleges and universities,” the AASCU said.

Speaking on behalf of European universities, the European University Association said it believed the new order aims indiscriminately at large groups of people to the detriment of mobility and exchange.

The association said it is concerned about how it will impact on international researchers, university faculty and students who wish to apply for visas and travel to the United States for partnerships, academic conferences, research field visits and international study programmes.

Less disruption

Despite her criticism, Coleman said the AAU is hopeful that the new order will cause less immediate disruption to campuses than the previous one.

She said the new exemption for current visa and green-card holders from the six affected countries means that students and faculty already on university campuses can, for the most part, leave the country and re-enter without being automatically prevented from returning.

“We are also pleased that the new order provides for a case-by-case waiver process for individuals from these six countries and specifically cites study and work as circumstances in which case-by-case waivers might be appropriate,” she said.