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If Travel Ban Sticks, Few Options Left For UW Students

Maggie Mullen

44 of the University of Wyoming’s students come from the seven different countries included in President Donald Trump’s travel suspension. The executive order is now in the midst of what will likely be a long, legal battle. Until the situation gets resolved, University President Laurie Nichols has discouraged the impacted students from traveling outside the U.S. Many of the students are now left with limited options and hard choices.

On a Friday just before noon, the University of Wyoming Union was busy with students and faculty stopping by for lunch between classes. One group of students was collecting signatures.

They were asking people to sign a letter to President Nichols, asking her to continue her support. Following President Donald Trump’s order, Nichols released a statement reaffirming the university’s commitment to its international students and staff.

Among the students was Ali Ghasemzadeh. He’s a PhD student from Iran studying transportation and highway engineering. He said he wants to teach once he graduates.  

 “My friends wanted to be a doctor, or an engineer,” said Ghasemzadeh. “I’m engineer right now, but I wanted to be the teacher at the end, it was the goal of my life.”

He said his parents planned to come to Laramie for his graduation, but under the ban that would not be possible. Ghasemzadeh said the ban could also impact his engagement.

“For example, my fiance, she is in Iran” said Ghasemzadeh. “She wanted to come here for continuing to study and being together, but it’s not possible anymore.”

"Actually the good thing about this order is that people, now they are closer to each other. This is one advantage, at least, because people need each other's support. This is the only thing that we can do."

With all of this emotional turmoil, Ghasemzadeh said he hasn’t been able to do the very thing he came to the U.S. to do -- school work.

“For me, I couldn’t work for two or three days. I’m just on Facebook, just refreshing, reading the new news,” said Ghasemzadeh.

Another UW student from Iran said he’s lost his motivation. He asked to not use his name because he was worried it could affect the status of his student visa. A few months ago, his father had open heart surgery back home in Iran and is now very sick. He said he had plans to visit him over winter break, but his program demanded him to stay and do more research.

When that happened, he changed his plans to visit this summer. If the order sticks, he said he is left with two choices. He can leave the U.S. to go see his father and risk not being able to return to his program. Or, he can continue his studies in Laramie and maybe never see his father again.

Most international students that come to the U.S. for college arrive on an F1 visa. It’s valid for the entirety of their degree programs, and they can apply to stay for additional three years after graduation to work in a job in their field.

Jill Johnson is the Associate Director of Admissions for the International Students and Scholars office at UW. She said applying for an F1 is a very long vetting process, especially if the student is coming from Iran.

“There are always really long delays in getting our students from Iran here, because they have to go through a pretty extensive background check, and this has been for years now,” said Johnson.

Johnson said the Monday after Trump’s order, students came to her office for a meeting and they were very upset. She said they were concerned about the people they knew directly impacted by the ban, but they were also worried about being able to finish their degrees.

“Most of these students, if not all of them, are graduate students,” said Johnson. “And so a lot of research opportunities that might -- not even opportunities -- required research for their degree program are to happen outside the U.S. Whether they could leave and come back, whether that would be a possibility for them to ever complete their degree here, was really in question.”

Back at UW’s union, the students collected over 650 signatures. Ali Ghasemzadeh said it is a small effort that may not have a major impact, but he was happy to see his peers come together.

“Actually the good thing about this order is that people, now they are closer to each other,” said Ghasemzadeh. “This is one advantage, at least, because people need each other’s support. This is the only thing that we can do.”

With the courts putting the ban on hold, the students remain in a wait and see mode.

Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.
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