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Travel Ban Raises Questions for International Students

With the Trump administration’s second, revised travel ban appearing to be headed for a drawn-out legal battle, international students at United States business schools are left wondering what the executive order will mean for them.

The order, scheduled to go into effect on March 16 before it was blocked by multiple federal judges, would have barred travelers from six majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States for a period of 90 days.

As a revised version of the Trump administration’s first executive order, which barred visitors from seven countries, the new order has a slightly narrower scope. Importantly for international students, anyone currently holding a valid visa can travel to the United States.

On the topic of international students, the Department of Homeland Security’s Q&A on the new travel ban says that the executive order “does not apply to individuals who are within the United States on the effective date of the Order or to those individuals who hold a valid visa.”


In the long-term, though, this provision may give little comfort to international students. Even if current students can stay in the United States as long as their visas are valid, students from the six affected countries looking to renew their visas or enroll in the future will be unable to do so.

Moreover, students from the six countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – will be unable to stay in the United States to work after graduation as long as the travel ban is in effect.

As one Iranian-born Canadian citizen studying at the Haas School of Business explained to Financial Times in the wake of the first travel ban, the order had left her afraid to leave the U.S. for the duration of her studies, then unable to stay in the country to start her career after graduation.

“I will stay here, like a prisoner, for another year and a half and then I’m forced out,” she said. Then she asked a question that’s surely on the mind of many international students these days: “Where is the logic?”

For business schools, the order will also make it impossible to hire faculty from the six countries as long as the order applies. In fact, the harm these restrictions would cause institutions of higher education has been brought up in some of the legal challenges to the travel ban.

More than anything, though, business schools, which thrive on internationalism, are worried about the message the travel ban sends to international students from all countries.

In the United Kingdom, business schools have been on edge in the year following Brexit, concerned that the country’s anti-immigration sentiment could harm the schools’ images. As a countermeasure, British business schools have been going out of their way to boost their international cred.

For example, Oxford’s Saïd Business School joined the Global Network for Advanced Management recently, citing the need to “maintain a global perspective” in “an increasingly uncertain world.”

GMAC’s Chief Executive Sangeet Chowfla told Bloomberg that with more than half of full-time two-year MBA students in the United States being non-U.S. citizens, making the country less attractive for international students could jeopardize “the financial viability of our great business schools.”

With the travel ban having such a direct effect on business schools in the United States, perhaps it’s no surprise that B-schools deans, often hesitant to speak out on politics, have been quick to decry the Trump administration’s executive order.

Within days of the first order, for example, Harvard Business School dean Nitin Nohria issued a letter to alumni outlining the practical effects of the travel ban:

The dampening effects of such a ban have become clear very quickly: students (including a number with citizenship from the listed countries) are questioning their career prospects and wondering whether their families will be able to join them for Commencement, faculty are debating whether they should travel to conduct their research and teaching, class visitors are cancelling their trips, alumni are uncertain whether to return to campus for reunions or other activities, and we are concerned that our executive programs — which comprise two-thirds international participants — could see declines in enrollment. Whatever the intention of the order, its implementation has led to disruption and fear, and it undercuts the very foundation of academic institutions like HBS.

Meanwhile, Fuqua School of Business dean William Boulding pointed out that for aspiring business leaders, there’s a lesson to pay attention to in the aftermath of the executive order: sometimes you can’t separate business and politics.

Talking to Bloomberg, Boulding said that there are times when it’s important to ask, “Is this political issue staking out a position which is inconsistent with the core values of our organization?”

For business schools in the United States, it appears that in the case of the Trump administration’s travel ban, the answer to that question is a resounding yes.