Travel ban, visa issues disrupt major neuroscience conference

The United States has long enjoyed a reputation as a place where scientists and researchers can come together to share their work. We’ve long been in the business of facilitating technical and scientific achievement, from inviting international university students to hosting international conferences.

Now, however, delays in processing and the action of President Trump’s travel ban are beginning to threaten that reputation.

The Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting was just held in Chicago, but many of the world’s neuroscientists were unable to attend because they could not obtain visas to visit the U.S.

One scientist who wanted to attend was Dr. Sepiedeh Keshavarzi. She currently works in London and has lawful permanent residency in Australia, but that didn’t help her. She has an Iranian passport, so she was forbidden from entering the U.S. by the travel ban.

As you may recall, President Trump issued a ban on visitors from six countries: Iran, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Libya, North Korea and Venezuela. The first two attempts to order such a ban were blocked by the courts, but the travel ban as currently constituted was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2018.

Keshavarzi, who studies how the brain keeps track of the body’s motion, had long dreamed of researching in the United States, she told NPR. After the travel ban kept her from even visiting the U.S. two years in a row, however, she has given up hope of getting a job here.

Keshavarzi had been slated to give a presentation at the Chicago conference. Instead, she was forced to submit a prerecorded PowerPoint presentation.

At its Chicago conference this year, the Society for Neuroscience was forced to reckon with the fact that even invited scientists cannot necessarily get visas into the U.S.

It’s not always due to the travel ban. Sometimes, processing delays kept attendees and presenters from having the appropriate visas in time for the event.

An informal survey of conference attendees found that nearly everyone knew a scientist who wanted to attend but couldn’t due to visa delays or denials.

Is there any hope for banned travelers?

Under certain limited circumstances, there could be an exception made for travelers from the six banned countries. Talk to an experienced immigration attorney about your options. For those outside the banned countries, remember that time is not on your side. Working with an immigration attorney can reduce your wait time by ensuring that your application is complete and contains all necessary evidence and documentation.

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