Some international Fulbright fellows in the U.S. say they are worried about their ability to return to their studies if they travel home during a temporary travel ban the U.S. has issued.

“The only thing that helped me persevere through the notoriously harsh winter in Syracuse was the thought that I will be back home in February to see my family,” said Ayman Idris, a Fulbright scholar at Syracuse University in New York who is from Sudan.

Idris said he had hoped to attend his younger brother’s graduation from medical school in Sudan on February 10.

But he canceled his trip after the Trump administration on January 27 issued a temporary ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries. Immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen as well as all refugees were temporarily barred by the order from entering the United States. American courts are now reviewing the action the Trump administration says is important for U.S. security in order to determine whether it is legal. It is unclear when courts will render a final verdict. 

Academic and study visas

The order also affects students who are in the U.S. on temporary academic and study visas. They normally would be allowed to travel to their home country and re-enter the United States without restriction.

Idris, who studies technology policy and management at Syracuse, said he had planned to join his family and watch “my kid brother accomplish his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor. … Now, thanks to President Trump, I only get to live that moment vicariously through the pictures taken by a shaky cellphone camera.”

The Fulbright program awards fellowships to nearly 4,000 international students each year. More than 370,000 “Fulbrighters” from more than 160 countries have participated since 1946 in the program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

Samaneh Seifollahi, a Fulbright fellow from Iran who studies at the University of California-Davis, said the temporary ban has disrupted her Fulbright program. She said she was making contacts in her field of study — natural resources, environmental policy and climate change — and hoped to be granted a postdoctoral position at the University of California-Irvine “with the best researchers in my major.”

Seifollahi said other students at University of California-Davis, where there are more than 35 Iranians, fear that new immigration policy might interrupt their studies and research in the U.S.

Families of Fulbrights also have been affected. Some who planned to visit the U.S. have canceled their trips because they, too, say they are fearful of their ability to travel.

Anxiety beyond the 7 countries

And some Fulbright scholars from countries not included in the temporary travel ban have also expressed anxiety.

“Although Pakistan is not among the countries currently facing the immigration curbs, the recent statement by a White House official about possible inclusion of other countries has raised concerns among Pakistanis students, some of whom have to go back between the semesters to meet their families,” said Waseem Abbasi, a Fulbright fellow at the University of Maryland. 

Abbasi referred to a statement by White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who said in a television interview, “You can point to other countries that have similar problems like Pakistan and others, perhaps we need to take it further.”

International students from India also say they are concerned. A law firm specializing in immigration from India — Madan and Saigal, a New York-based law firm — has distributed a notice advising immigrants and students not to leave the United States to avoid being denied re-entry.

Their advice applies “to everyone,” the statement said, not just to people from the seven countries on the list, their statement said.

Community doctors at risk

Simultaneously, the American Medical Association (AMA) wrote to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly to discuss its concerns about the temporary ban affecting international medical graduates (IMGs).

IMGs are physicians who received their medical school education outside of the U.S. Many are foreigners who have been granted visas to train, practice or attend medical conferences in the U.S.

The association’s CEO, Dr. James Madara, wrote that 1-in-4 physicians in the United States are IMGs.

“Many communities, including rural and low-income areas, often have problems attracting physicians to meet their health care needs. To address these gaps in care, IMGs often fill these openings,” Madara said. “These physicians are licensed by the same stringent requirements applied to U.S. medical school graduates.

“There are reports indicating that this executive order is affecting both current and future physicians as well as medical students and residents who are providing much needed care to some of our most vulnerable patients,” he added.

The AMA has asked the Trump administration for guidance on the future of the visa program.

Hitender Rao is a journalist with Hindustan Times who is currently studying in the United States as a Fulbright Fellow. 

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