Trump’s Latest Travel Ban Threatens Science Partnerships, Economic Gains

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The Trump administration’s third effort to tighten travel restrictions on those seeking to enter the United States – a proclamation issued on Sept. 24 – has stirred concern among the scientific and engineering community that global scientific collaboration will be harmed. | U.S. Customs and Border Protection photo by Glenn Fawcett/Flickr

The nation’s leading scientific and engineering societies are raising new concerns about the impact of President Donald Trump’s latest visa and immigration policy, declaring a proclamation the president recently issued damaging to U.S. interests and the future of the nation’s science and engineering enterprise.

In an Oct. 17 letter to President Trump, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and dozens of prominent scientific and engineering societies said the president’s Sept. 24 proclamation on visa and immigration policies poses “serious implications for diplomatic, humanitarian and national security interests in part because it weakens our U.S. science and engineering capacity.”

The consequences of the administration’s proposal to impose new restrictions on travelers from named countries, the letter said, will blunt “science and engineering output to the detriment of our nation.”

“Scientific progress depends on openness, transparency and the free flow of ideas; these principles have helped the United States to attract and richly benefit from international scientific talent,” said the letter, which was organized by AAAS. “To remain the world leader in advancing scientific knowledge and innovation, the U.S. science and technology enterprise must continue to capitalize on the international and multicultural environment within which it operates.”

The proclamation follows two earlier efforts by the administration to impose heightened visa and immigration restrictions on travel to the United States. Beginning on Oct. 18, the proclamation will indefinitely bar most citizens from seven nations – Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Yemen – from traveling to the United States. It also places increased scrutiny on some people seeking to travel to the United States from Venezuela and Iraq.

The proclamation, unlike the two previous executive orders issued on Jan. 27 and March 6, was the product of a national security review by the Trump administration of the risks posed by citizens seeking to travel to the United States. Travelers from the seven nations are indefinitely restricted from entering the United States because their governments were unable to provide U.S. authorities with adequate identification information, the administration said.

The administration’s proclamation has already had an impact on legal disputes pending against the two earlier executive orders. The Supreme Court dismissed on Oct. 10 consideration of a legal challenge to the administration’s first executive order because it had expired, rendering the legal question moot. The court is expected to take similar action on the still active case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit contesting the remaining executive order, which is slated to expire later this month.

From the start, the administration’s visa and immigration policies have attracted opposition from scientific organizations. AAAS, joined by other scientific, engineering and academic organizations, spoke out against the Jan. 27 executive order that sparked confusion, prompted protests at international airports and led to legal challenges. The groups renewed those concerns in the wake of the administration’s March 6 executive order, saying the actions would negatively impact collaborations between foreign students and scientists with their peers in the United States. 

“These statements and associated policies from the White House are discouraging many of the best and brightest international students, scholars and scientists from choosing the United States as the ideal nation for studying and working and seeking to build new businesses,” the letter said. “In fact, we are now seeing visas being denied to scientists wishing to speak at scientific conferences in the United States.”

In the latest letter, the scientific groups, as they have before, stressed their willingness to work with the administration to design immigration policies that will help the nation preserve the economic benefits scientific collaborations deliver and protect national security.

[Associated Image: DoD photo by D. Myles Cullen/Released/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)]