U of A waives application fees for 132 students affected by Trump travel ban

The University of Alberta has waived application fees for 132 students from countries singled out in a now-suspended U.S. travel ban as it turns to virtual technology to assist those still hesitant to attend conferences south of the border.

Virtual technology helping university students participate in U.S. conferences

University of Alberta officials say they are aware of 27 graduate students from countries singled out in the now-suspended U.S. travel ban who are still hesitant to attend U.S. conferences or have cancelled their flights.

The University of Alberta has waived application fees for more than 130 students from countries singled out in a now-suspended U.S. travel ban as it turns to virtual technology to assist those still hesitant to attend conferences south of the border.

As of Feb. 16, the university had waived fees for 132 students from the seven predominantly Muslim countries that were covered by the ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump.

"I think it's illustrating for you the uncertainty that the travel ban has created for students from those seven countries who have hoped to go to the U.S. to continue their studies," said Doug Weir, executive director of student services, explaining the applicants have already been accepted by U.S. institutions.

"Now they're anxious, given the uncertainty of whether they'll be able to pursue that education that they'd hoped to do. I think they're looking for alternatives."

At the beginning of the month, the U of A announced it would waive admission fees for affected students. Applying for admission at the U of A can cost more than $125.

President David Turpin provided assurances that the university would remain an open and welcoming community to all nations and religions. "We will do everything we can to support you during this period of uncertainty," Turpin said.

The move came just days after Trump issued an executive order banning travel to the U.S. for people from seven Muslim-majority countries. The ban has since been suspended in court but the Trump administration has vowed to introduce a revised version.

In total, the ban affects 534 students at the U of A, the majority in engineering, science and medicine and dentistry.

Students hesitant to attend U.S. conferences

Weir said he is aware of 27 affected graduate students who had been accepted to attend U.S. conferences, or hoped to go. Some cancelled flights in the days following the ban. Despite the court injunction, "many will still hesitate [to travel] given the continued uncertainty of what might develop," he said.

On Friday afternoon, a student used virtual technology to present to a conference at Columbia University. Weir said the university is working on creating similar opportunities for other students, but they will still be at a disadvantage to peers.

"Obviously it's not the same experience for that student to be at the conference and establish their academic network or advance their network," said Weir, explaining networking is key to advancing academically and getting research published and recognized.

Although seven countries were named in the U.S. travel ban — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — the U of A's surge in applications has mostly come from Iranian students at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

As of Friday, the total number of Iranian applicants was 930 compared to 329 at this time last year.

Vice-provost Britta Baron said the university's popularity among Iranian students began after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, when they could no longer study in the U.S.

Baron said the university has a number of professors of Iranian heritage, including some who are high profile and influential. Through them, she said, the faculty of engineering has built strong, informal relations with a top engineering school in Iran.

"Once we started seeing a lot of Iranian students, that very fact attracted more of them," said Baron. "We hear that U of A is very well known in Iran."

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca           @andreahuncar