How Trump’s Immigration Ban is Already Hurting Science
January 30, 2017
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
WASHINGTON – Billed as a measure to bolster national security, President Donald Trump’s executive order blocking travel, immigrants and refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries is having ripple effects impacting the science and biotech communities and could be the start of a brain drain in the U.S.
Multiple publications reported incidents of U.S. immigrants (in and out of the scientific community) who were not allowed to return to the United States this weekend due to the presidential ban. The executive tagged Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen as countries with ties to terrorism.
Itech reported this morning that an Iranian scientist, Samira Asgari, planning to study gene response to tuberculosis at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston as part of post-doctoral program was turned away at a Germany airport before she could come to the United States. Asgari had been living in Switzerland and gave up her apartment and now has nowhere to live. Asgari had spent more than a year applying to post-doctoral programs in the United States. She told The Verge that she was drawn to Boston because of the reputation of the academic institutions in that city, including Harvard and MIT. Boston is also home to one of the largest hubs of the pharmaceutical and biotech industries in the world, home to companies like Biogen (BIIB), Alnylam (ALNY), Vertex (VRTX), Shire (SHPG), bluebird bio (BLUE), Sarepta Therapeutics (SRPT) and more.
Asgari told The Verge she has options to seek work in other countries, but Harvard officials are working to see how the executive order might be amended to prevent a brain drain. Souma Raychaudhuri, who Asgari was coming to study with at Harvard, told The Verge that the majority of people in his lab are visa holders and the executive order is making many of those researchers nervous about their own future.
Asgari is not the only scientist to have been caught off guard by the sweeping executive order issued over the weekend. Kaveh Daneshvar, a molecular geneticist completing his post-doctoral work at Harvard University was planning to attend a molecular biology conference in Canada in March. However, Daneshvar told Nature that he was now afraid to leave the United States because he might not be allowed to return. Like Asgari, Daneshvar is Iranian. Daneshvar has a visa, but is afraid that it might not be respected at the border.
One neuroscience student at Virginia Tech, Ubadah Sabbagh, told Nature he was worried about his future. Sabbagh is Syrian, but he came to the United States seven years ago when he was 16 years old to attend College. He refused to serve in the Syrian army when he was younger and is not able to return to his native country. As of now, he cannot renew his U.S. visa and worries about how long he will be able to stay in the U.S. and what the future holds.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology issued a travel warning to its international students planning to attend conferences or return to their country of origin for a visit. In the warning, MIT said those students should consider postponing any international travel until the federal government provides further clarification of the 120-day ban. Josh Plotkin, a postdoctoral student from the University of Pennsylvania, told The Atlantic that international collaboration and travel is “a major and inescapable part of modern science.”
The Atlantic listed numerous scientists and researchers who came to the United States to pursue academic excellence and career opportunities.
Not only are science students and researchers personally impacted, but Scott Arenson of MIT, said the ban hurts university capabilities to recruit scientists from those countries on the ban list, particularly Iran.
“…until further notice, science departments at American universities can no longer recruit PhD students from Iran—a country that, along with China, India, and a few others, has long been the source of some of our best talent,” Arenson said on his blog.