Given the Trump Administration’s Executive Order that aims to revoke visas to nationals from seven Muslim-majority nations, what is your professional society doing to further support conference travel to the USA?
This is my story as a non-Muslim Australian. I’m sharing it as a minor example of the confusion and possible ramifications of the “Muslim ban” on academics. The broader context is much more perilous for Muslims who have a concrete fear for their lives and future under President Trump.
I was invited to speak at a conference in honour of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The event, Gender, Science and Sustainable Development: The Impact of Media – From Vision to Action, was held on February 10th, 2017 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, USA. Gender equity in science and academia is a field in which I’ve long worked, researched and volunteered, including in a previous role where I implemented and managed a national program to increase gender equity and diversity in science. I was invited to discuss my public writing on women in science. I was excited.
In preparation for this travel, I applied for the visa waiver program in January, as is my right as an Australian citizen. This program should provide automatic approval for people holding an electronic Australian passport. That’s me. I received an automatic message when I applied that I was not auto approved but that I’d hear an outcome within 72 hours, as is the maximum waiting period for this service. The time came and went and there was no response. I have not been denied a visa, I have simply not been granted one and not given a reason.
Then the Muslim ban was in full effect. Sixty thousand visas were revoked immediately on the first weekend. This had a massive impact on Muslims and their families who were kept from entering the USA, some of whom were locked in detention facilities. At least one woman who died after being denied entry back into the USA.
Academics were among those affected and thousands of scientists have responded.
A stay on the ban has been in effect since 28 January, implemented by U.S. District Judge Ann M. Donnelly. The stay was sustained by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals until Judge Donnelly can fully investigate the case.
Amidst all this, my visa application was in limbo. This is small potatoes in the broader context, but I share my story because, potentially, this illustrates how systemic issues may be affecting visa processing.
Given the United Nations conference was imminent, I followed up to see why my visa application was delayed. I first enquired electronically. I received a message saying it would be at least three months before I’d hear back. Then I called the the USA visa office in Australia. I couldn’t see the issue as I’ve travelled to other countries in Europe, Asia and New Zealand. I was told to contact the USA Homeland Security and given a USA phone number.
No thank you.
I was born in South America. I have lived in Australia since I was a young child. There are no Latin nations on the unlawful Muslim ban list, nor have I travelled to these nations; I’ve simply never had the opportunity. Not that it should matter, given the positive contributions Muslims have made to Australia, America and the rest of the world. I am not Muslim—again, this should be inconsequential as it is not a crime to be Muslim. The United Nations sees religious freedom as a basic human right. Moreover, Australian dual national are supposed to be exempt from the ban.
Regardless the stay means the ban should not be enforced. Nevertheless, there have already been reports of cases where students are being denied entry into the USA.
As academic friends have pointed out, President Trump has disbanded key roles that may be affecting how administrative offices are being managed and resourced, perhaps including those overseeing visa processing. In answer to a friend’s question: yes first name is a common Muslim name that is unusual in both my country of birth and in Australia. My second name reflects my Spanish-speaking origins. It should go without saying but names shouldn’t be cause for suspicion.
What other factors may have affected the visa delay? The Trump government is currently conducting an unprecedented campaign to deport undocumented migrants that goes beyond the Obama Administration’s callous tactics. This especially targets Americans of Latin American origin. The Trump Administration continues to promise the building of a new wall between the USA and Mexico. Are Latins suspect short-term visa applicants too?
Though this situation raises painful memories of the life-long discrimination I have suffered as a woman of colour, it is still nothing compared to what Muslims are going through.
So if the waiver program causes an unclear and long delay for a one-day conference to me, a mid-career PhD-holding Latin-Australian sociologist, how might it affect other scholars?
Head to my blog to read more about the Muslim ban, and what sociological and other science associations are doing to address it, as well as what else may need to be considered.
Images: Zuleyka Zevallos.
- A woman holds up sign with the Australian flag visible in the background. Message reads: No hate no fear, everyone is welcome here.
- Among a group of protesters at the Women’s March Sydney, a woman holds the sign that reads: Trump Uphold Human Rights for All.