An uncertain future


Avir El Shaban explains how the ban on travel to and from her home country of Libya has impacted her life.


Avir El Shaban, a WSU College of Education graduate student, is an F-1 visa holder from Benghazi, Libya. She moved to the U.S. in December 2010, just two months before the Arab Spring began in her home country.

El Shaban said she came to Pullman in August 2011, after being accepted to WSU, not once leaving the country because of the visa restrictions. She now lives here with her husband and two kids.

“I really wanted to (leave, but) I was afraid that it would not be easy for me to get a visa again,” El Shaban said. “Especially since I have already started my academic studies here.”

She said many of her colleagues went to either the United Kingdom, Canada or Australia, where the visa process is much easier. Those countries have a multi-entry visa, meaning they can leave and come back whenever they want, she said.

El Shaban said it took 30 days to get her visa to enter the U.S. the first time. In the U.S., a visa must be renewed for each new entry.

“It’s not an easy option to decide to come to America, for a graduate or undergraduate student,” El Shaban said, “because of the visa restrictions they have on Libyan students in particular.”

She said she was upset when she heard about President Donald Trump’s executive order banning citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S.

“Honestly, I was shocked when I heard about the announcement,” El Shaban said. “I couldn’t even hold my tears from running from my eyes.”

She said she is surprised the U.S. government would suspect the citizens of these countries of being terrorists.

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” El Shaban said. “We know that as a government, or as a leader, it’s your responsibility to take care of your country, to guarantee the safety of your citizens for sure. But not this way.”

El Shaban said the new visa restrictions will make it harder for her to get a job in the U.S. after she graduates in the spring. The F-1 visa is valid as long as someone stays a full-time student, she said, but when she is no longer a student and tries to get a job at a university, they might not be able to sponsor her because of her status.

El Shaban said she doesn’t regret coming to the U.S. because she loves the diversity here. She said she sees it as the land of hope and opportunity for all. El Shaban also said she doesn’t think the executive order is the real face of America, because of the many protests against it that have cropped up around the country in the days since Trump signed the order.

“This is America that I know, and this is the country that I hope to be,” El Shaban said. “In this way, America will truly be the leader of the world. And to be a leader of the world, you need to lead from the front, not from the back.”

‘This is humiliating’

Mona Karimzadeh, an F-1 visa-holding master’s student studying civil engineering at WSU, plans to graduate in May. She said she has not visited her home country of Iran in four years, because there was a chance she would be unable to get a visa to return to the U.S.

Karimzadeh said some of her friends are in similar situations. Often, the student’s parents will travel to visit them rather than risk the student not being allowed back into the country, she said. Trump’s executive order suspends the parents’ ability to visit their children.

Karimzadeh said she originally came to study in the U.S. because of the lack of freedom in Iran, particularly for women.

“The progress you can make in the U.S., you cannot make in my country,” she said.

While Karimzadeh has been offered a U.S.-based job that would start after she graduates, she isn’t sure if she can take it. She is worried that after Trump’s immigration ban, there might be more restrictions on Iranians’ ability to get jobs.

“I don’t know about my future,” Karimzadeh said.

President Donald Trump’s executive order only specifically names one banned country, Syria. However, Trump used a list of countries of concern, from the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, to choose the seven countries he banned.

The 2015 act also locked out travelers retuning to the U.S., from these specified countries, if they were there on or after March 1, 2011, according to a White House press release.

Karimzadeh said that only the top “brains of Iran” can study in the U.S., and they are usually graduate students like herself; smart, valuable assets to the nation.

“This is not the way they should be treated,” Karimzadeh said. “This is humiliating.”

She said they have to go through a tough visa process, which can take up to three or four months to complete.

Karimzadeh believes there may be more students who will study in Canada or European countries where they would feel safer.

A WSU staff member from Iran asked to remain anonymous because she is afraid of losing her right to reside here.

“This is alarming,” the Iranian staff member said. “It’s unconstitutional and it goes against a lot of what America is about, and what it’s been in the past few years.”

She originally considered moving to another country when the order was enacted, but the reactions from people around the country changed her mind.

“I saw people standing up for us,” she said. “At the airports, on the streets. That gave me the momentum to power through this and to fight for it.”

Re-entry issues

A WSU student who is set to work with a water researcher at the Prosser extension campus is currently stuck outside the U.S.

Because of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order, the student was turned back in Amsterdam, WSU spokesperson Rob Strenge wrote in an email. For privacy reasons, Strenge could not release the student’s name.

Strenge wrote that WSU has been in communication with the Congressional offices and the staff of Rep. Dan Newhouse (R) offered to help.

Peters has been in communication with the student and filled out the necessary forms for the Congressional office to help the student get back into the U.S., Strenge wrote.

“There may not be an immediate solution,” Strenge wrote in the email, “but the Congressman’s office is working with Dr. Peters to gather the needed information and see if he can attempt to help in any way possible.”

WSU has also made Sens. Patty Murray (D) and Maria Cantwell (D) aware of the situation and has received their support.

“I understand we have a handful of other students who are experiencing some problems currently,” Strenge wrote, “but that this one student appears to be the only one actually having difficulty re-entering the U.S.”