Trump travel ban casts fear into community of international students and researchers

Newsha Ghaeli and Mohammed are post-doctorate researchers at MIT. Ghaeli is an Iranian-Canadian. Mohammed is in the U.S. on a single-entry visa and has applied for permanent residency in both Canada and the U.S. Both are worried about how Trump's new travel restrictions will affect them.
Demonstrators spell out "# No Muslim Ban" during the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017. (Reuters)

On Friday afternoon, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order restricting travellers from Muslim-majority countries to travel into the United States. Since the announcement, there's been a lot of confusion, fear and anger from those affected by the ban. 

During our discussion on the new U.S. travel ban, host Duncan McCue spoke to two post-doctorate researchers who work at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. Newsha Ghaeli was born in Iran but moved to Toronto when she was eight months old. Her friend Mohammed, is a native Iranian currently on a single-entry visa and has applied for permanent residency in both Canada and the U.S.

Both Ghaeli and Mohammed talked about their concerns about the new travel restrictions, and how it would affect them. At the time of their chat on Checkup, they were both attending a protest against Trump's new immigration order. 

Listen to their full conversation below: 

Newsha Ghaeli and Mohammed are post-doc researchers at MIT. Ghaeli is Iranian Canadian. Mohammed is an Iranian on a single-entry visa. They're worried about U.S. President Trump's new travel restrictions. 8:41

Duncan McCue: Newsha Ghaeli is calling from Boston, Massachusetts. You contacted us on Twitter.  Can you let our listeners know what you had to say there? 

Newsha Ghaeli:  I took to Twitter last night when I was a little uncertain as to how this how this ban was going to affect me personally. I'm a Canadian citizen. My family immigrated to Canada when I was eight months old. So, I've lived in Canada my entire life and I haven't been back to Iran since I was five. However, my Canadian passport does indicate that my place of birth is Iran. I occasionally get questions at the border as to whether or not I hold an Iranian passport. And so, it was a lot of uncertainty about what this was going to mean for me. 

DM:  What happened at the border? 

NG: Luckily, I was in Boston when this all happened over the last 48 hours and, I plan on staying here at least until it's a little bit more clear as to what's happening. I was hoping to come home to Toronto in February. But again, I'll wait it out for another five, seven days and see. Justin Trudeau and his office have said that this will not affect individuals who are holding Canadian passports. But at the same time, Trump is putting a lot of power into the hands of the customs agents and it seems like it is at their discretion. I think that's where most of the uncertainty arises. 

DM: You're a researcher at MIT.  Obviously, this is going to impact a number of international students. What's MIT saying to international students right now? 

NG: It's such an international environment here in Boston and on campus at MIT in particular. Yesterday, the international scholars' office sent out a few emails and advised individuals with citizenship, nationality or even birth in one of those seven countries to avoid travel until things are a little bit clearer. Just taking the lab that I work in as an example, I think three people are U.S. citizens of the 30 of us and five people have an Iranian background. Three of those five are on an Iranian passport. It hits very close to home with me personally, professionally and in my social life to see a lot of people affected directly by this. 

Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, holds a news conference to update Canadians on the possible impacts of recent immigration-related decisions made by President Donald Trump, in Ottawa on Sunday, January 29, 2017. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

DM: I understand you're with another researcher as well. Hi Mohammed, how's this new U.S. travel ban impacting you? 

Mohammed: I'm a post-doctoral researcher at MIT. I moved to the U.S. from Canada two years ago. I'm on a J-1 visa and I also have an approved petition for permanent residency in the U.S.

I was expecting to get my green card in the next few months. I only have an Iranian passport. So, I'm on a single entry visa right now. I couldn't travel outside the U.S. in the past two years because every time you go out, you have to go through this painful process of getting a U.S. visa. You never know how long it's going to take because of the background checks. And so for me, it was very risky to go out. I decided to stay in the U.S. and I haven't visited my parents in the past four years. I was really looking forward to getting the green card and to be able to finally travel outside the U.S. It's also affecting my work because I can't go to international conferences. 

DM:  Where are your parents, Mohammed? 

Mohammed: My parents live in Iran. My brother actually just moved to Vancouver. I founded a start-up there two years ago before coming to the U.S. My brother is in Vancouver doing a post-doc. 

DM: It sounds like you're kind of land-locked. From your perspective, you really don't want to leave the country? 

Mohammed:  At this point, I don't know what's going to happen. It's not clear how it's going to unfold. I don't know if my [application for] permanent residency will be affected by this or I don't know if I would get the green card. They don't say how long it's going to take. It can take six months or it can take two years. I know people who have been waiting for like three years to get accepted. 

Izzy Berdan (R) joins the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

DM: What are your hopes now in terms of getting a green card? 

Mohammed:  I'm kind of not relying on that anymore. I also have a pending application for a Canadian permanent residency. I really hope that I get the Canadian permanent residency so I can move to Canada. Even if I get the green card, I don't know if I really want to be in this situation because I heard people were detained with green cards last night coming back from Iran.  

DM: Mohammed, this is very much a developing story. There are all kinds of twists and turns, but what I can tell you is that our Minister of Immigration is in the middle of a news conference right now. And, Ahmed Hussen has just announced that he will give temporary permits to those affected. 

Mohammed: That's great. That's great. 

DM: Last question for you Mohammed. What's the mood like down there in Boston? 

Mohammed: On the bright side, you see that people are uniting. I think it's beautiful to see people of all colours at this protest. They all think we should be welcoming. The people who were at the airport last night [were] hoping that they could start this new chapter in their lives and have some basic quality of life. Now, that hope is lost for them. But, it's good to see that this situation is uniting people. Hopefully the government will hear these voices. 

Duncan McCue's conversations with Newsha Ghaeli and Mohammed have been edited and condensed for clarity. To hear more from Ghaeli and Mohammed, you can listen to the full conversation above. This online segment was prepared by Samantha Lui.