On September 24, 2017, President Donald Trump made the official, unprecedented move to controversially restrict entry to the United States to “nationals of countries of identified concern.” Of those eight countries — Chad, Iran, Libya, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, Somalia, and North Korea — six have majority Muslim populations.
The executive order effectively banned almost all travel to the United States by nationals of those countries indefinitely, while not impacting travel for citizens of any European, Australasian or South American countries. Most Europeans, for example, are able to continue to travel to the United States for up to 90 days without a visa, while citizens from 38 carefully selected countries, including Iraq and Sudan in addition to the eight countries listed above, must obtain a “travel authorization” in order to enter the States. The executive order sparked outrage around the world with the public, citizens of affected countries, human rights organizations and governments. Many saw the executive order as draconian and discriminatory.
The order had an immediate impact on thousands of people: residents, dual passport holders, travelers, students, educators and business-owners, particularly those in the technology sector. Hundreds of large tech firms, Apple and Google among them, have traditionally relied on H-1B visas to bring in highly-skilled foreign workers from countries such as India, Israel, and South Korea on a non-immigrant basis. The executive order immediately made it much more difficult for U.S. companies to bring these workers here on such visas. With more than 500,000 U.S.-based open computing jobs to fill and with just 43,000 Americans graduating annually with computer-science degrees, these firms rely heavily on the ability to employ overseas IT professionals.
The order won’t only hurt America’s larger firms. Small and medium sized enterprises will also struggle to recruit necessary talent due to the new visa restrictions, according to Madhuri Nemali, a Silicon Valley immigration lawyer and expert on the H-1B visa program.
But the longer-term impact of the policy on American citizens, in particular its students, is one that has gone under the radar in the broader human rights implication debate.
On March 2, 2017, the European Parliament voted to end the visa waiver program it has jointly shared with the United States since 1986, in an attempt to make Americans apply and pay for visas before visiting Europe. The reason for the vote was understandable: America’s lack of reciprocity and rising concerns that Trump would make it tougher for EU citizens to enter the States. As it stands, EU citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Romania and Poland must apply for, and obtain visas in order to travel to the United States for business or pleasure – despite the fact that U.S. citizens’ visa obligations to those same countries are waived as part of the program. Currently, American and Canadian citizens can visit all 28 European Union countries (for the time being, at least) without first obtaining a visa, provided they stay less than three months over any six-month period.
The vote did not however translate into formal action, with the European Commission recognizing that at a time of growing international concern over terrorism, a weakening Euro and with Brexit looming, it would not bode well to restrict travel to incoming American tourists, too. Citing “engagement, commitment and peaceful diplomacy over unilateral retaliation,” the European Commission announced it would not reinstate visa requirements for U.S. citizens wishing to travel to Europe since it would be “counterproductive.”
But this predates Trump’s executive order. And in the months that have followed the international “visa war” (for lack of a better term) has gained momentum. The EU went on to put pressure on Canada to reinstate the reciprocal arrangement it once promised and allow tourists from Bulgaria and Romania to visit visa-free – and it worked. Canada has now decided to allow visa-free travel for all EU citizens. The U.S. and Turkey are in similar diplomatic negotiations over visas. What will it mean for the American people if the current administration continues to sever ties with foreign travelers? There will be backlash, and it won’t hurt Trump – it will hurt the American people.
Trump’s immigration policies are also having a worrying impact upon American Universities, with foreign-born graduates now finding it tougher than ever to find a job upon graduation and with many college students potentially at risk of expulsion and deportation, a result of Trump’s call to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. Likewise, American University students seeking to travel overseas to undertake a semester of study may soon be impacted by the Trump administration. International backlash over newly proposed immigration and visa policies could harm their chances of obtaining a permit to study elsewhere in years to come.
Some U.S. companies have already identified this as a potential concern, developing new technologies to create, submit and manage online visa applications for foreign countries, making it easier and potentially less likely to end in rejection. TravelVisa.com is one example of a company doing exactly this, providing manageable solutions to universities, companies, individuals, airlines and tour operators all over the world seeking to make the visa process easier and less burdensome.
With almost 20 years of technology-centered business, visa and passport experience, founder Adam Boalt has sought to reinvent the wheel and improve the visa application process using sophisticated technology that enables applicants to monitor and track the approval process every step of the way. Providing travel visas to Harvard students is just one of the services offered by the platform, allowing university faculties to plan itineraries, invite students to join study groups, and then track the progress of each student as they progress through the visa application process. In an ever-changing geopolitical landscape, such platforms might soon become the most efficient and fail-safe method for students wanting to travel abroad to better understand the requirements and obtain visas.
Foreign students seeking to undertake study at Harvard must also typically go through a lengthy and tiresome visa application process to gain a visa sponsored by the Harvard International Office (HIO). No one is exempt, with students, scholars and their accompanying family members all required to have both a visa document from the HIO and a visa from a U.S. embassy or consulate in order to legally enter the United States. But if students thought the process was difficult in previous years, I’m concerned when I think about just how convoluted they will become over the next 24 months.
We are living in an era of uncertainty, where at any given moment we could be stripped of our freedoms and rights to live and work overseas. Let’s hope the Trump administration is considering the best interests of the American people as well the best interests of the American economy moving forward.