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Revised travel ban shouldn’t bar foreign students… in theory – experts

Retired engineer John Wider, 59, holds up a sign reading "Welcome Muslims" after reinstatment of U.S. President Donald Trump's travel ban, at Los Angeles International Airport. Pic: Reuters/Mike Blake.

Citizens from six Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – with valid student visas should be exempted from the Trump administration’s travel ban, but experts say how this plays out in real life in the hands of individual immigration officers remains unknown.

The Supreme Court on Monday partially allowed the travel ban to be implemented after it was originally suspended by federal judges in March. The revised ban is now in effect.

A Department of State cable is reported to list out the processes a student from the affected nations need to go through: Fill out an I20 form, go to US consulate in home country, get visa.

“That’s what should happen,” says Karen Pita Loor, a clinical associate professor of law at Boston University with a specialisation in immigration law and policy, as quoted by USA Today College.

“Of course, we don’t know what’s actually going to happen because it hasn’t gone into effect yet.”

Which way will individual officers decide? Pic: Reuters/Joe Penney.

Those with F1 visas (university students) or M1 visas (vocational or technical school students), as well as their dependents with valid F2 visas should have no problem entering the US, Loor added.

But it is individual officers that will decide what a “bona fide relationship” with the US means. The phrase is set as a criterion to be proved in order for citizens of the six affected nations to be exempted from the ban.

Reuters reported that a Department of State cable described the relationship as one that “must be formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading the EO,” referring to the Trump’s March 6 executive order banning travel into the US by citizens of the six countries.

Experts fear the ban have chilled many prospective students from choosing to study in the US. Pic: Reuters/Brian Snyder.

But how this is translated will depend on the discretion of individual officers, Susan Akram, another Boston University clinical professor of law who specialises in immigration law and policy said.

While Akram expects students to be able to prove this “bona fide relationship” more easily than business travelers or tourists, uncertainty still looms.

“If [students] have a visa or an acceptance letter from a university and they’re from one of the six countries they should be able to enter, but that’s going to be very much up to the determination of the officers who are being presented with [the information] either at the consulate issuing a visa or on entry when the immigration customs and border patrol officer looks at the visa,” Akram says.

“[The ban] is still going to be applied on the ground by hundreds of individual officers, and they’re going to have a lot of discretion in terms of what they decide this ‘bona fide relationship’ involves.”

Will more run away after the Supreme Court ruling? Pic: Reuters/Yuri Gripas.

Trump’s travel ban has had a chilling impact on international student recruitment – nearly 40 percent of US universities report declining interest from overseas, a survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) in March showed.

Existing students, like those at University of Iowa (UI), have been cautioned against traveling outside the country. Downing Thomas, UI’s Associate Provost wrote, as reported by The Gazette : “If you do, you may not be able to re-enter the country.”

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