Students and scholars in the Arab region, along with American university leaders, welcomed the decision of the new U.S. president, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., to end the Trump administration’s so-called “Muslim ban.” That ban stopped most people from several predominantly Muslim countries—including Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Iran—from entering the United States.
“Now I feel there is hope for a new path,” said Rana Shaban, a Syrian physician living in Istanbul, Turkey. Because of her Syrian passport, her previous plans to go to America to complete a Ph.D. were dashed.
The change in policy is “a vital component of restoring the confidence of international students and scholars as they choose whether to study and contribute to U.S. campuses, our economy, and our communities,” said Esther D. Brimmer, executive director of NAFSA: Association of International Educators. NAFSA describes itself as “the world’s largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education.”
Students from most of the targeted countries (though not Syrians) were granted exemptions from the ban, but approval of their visas was slowed down, and publicity surrounding the ban discouraged many Arab students from applying for a U.S. visa. (See a related article, “U.S. Selective Ban on Visas Shuts Out Arab Students”).
When the ban went into effect, it caused a lot of hardship, international educators said, including for students from countries included in the ban who were already enrolled in American universities and got trapped outside of the United States. “We literally had students in the air or in Canada returning to campus who were stopped and turned back,” says Josh Taylor, New York University’s associate vice chancellor for global programs and mobility services
After several weeks of frantic efforts, the university managed to retrieve the affected students. With 21,093 international students enrolled during the 2019-2020 academic year, New York University is the largest host of foreign students among American institutions, according to the annual “Open Doors” report, published by the Institute of International Education.
A Chaotic Time
The ban played havoc with the lives of students from restricted countries, says Shafiqa Ahmadi, professor of education and co-director of the University of Southern California’s Center for Education, Identity & Social Justice. The university is the third-highest host of foreign students among American institutions. (See a related article, “Fewer Arab Students Head for the United States”).