Australian universities protest against Donald Trump’s immigration ban


The immigration ban on residents and visitors from seven Muslim-dominant nations has sparked fear and confusion among Australian universities, including hundreds of students and staff from the affected countries or those who collaborate with other academics around the world.

Australian academics backed their US counterparts in criticising the immigration ban. More than 7,000 US academics and 37 Nobel laureates have signed a petition calling for the US president, Donald Trump, to reconsider the executive order, which has seen detention and deportation of hundreds in the US.

Prof Ian Jacobs, the vice-chancellor of the University of New South Wales, said the university was one of the world’s most networked. It has collaborations with 51 institutions in Iran, producing 175 joint publications. Last year it had 171 Iranian students, 23 Iranian students, 55 staff with citizenship from the listed nations and another 12 with visas from them.

“Among our higher degree research students we currently have 221 candidates who are citizens of the seven affected countries and last year 16 of those candidates travelled to the United States for conferences,” he said at the UNSW Gandhi oration event on Monday.

“Universities have always been beacons of intellectual freedom and it is distressing that this policy, aimed at America’s internal security, will restrain the exchange of talent around the world, including those between Australia and the United States.

“Without adequate warning, scholars from the seven targeted nations studying or working in American universities and visiting Australia may be unable to return to the United States.”

The Universities Australia chief executive, Belinda Robinson, said there was a long history of collaboration and exchange between Australian and US universities, and Trump’s order could potentially damage research collaborations, conference participation, student exchanges and postdoctoral work.

“Collaboration is the lifeblood of world-leading university research and is vital to the economies and societies of both our nations,” she said.

Nona Farbehi, 30, is a third-year biomedical engineering phD student at UNSW. The 30-year-old Iranian woman is one of 221 higher degree research candidates at the university from the affected nations, having arrived in Australia almost three years ago to work with the Victor Chang Institute on researching heart attacks.

Farbehi said the ban, even once lifted, would affect the future of academic collaboration in the US.

“It’s countries like the US which absorb the most intelligent people from other countries, including Iran,” she said. “People suffer a lot from this decision, they’ll decide to just not go there and change their direction to study in other countries which welcome them more.”

Farbehi said several colleagues had been affected already, including an Iranian friend who was hired as a lecturer at Stanford University but was not allowed to enter upon returning from a work trip to Switzerland.

“He went on the airplane but they just deported [him] from the US,” she said. “He doesn’t have a job back in Switzerland. He just wants to start his new life with a new position in a university. He doesn’t know what to do.”

Another pregnant friend had visited her parents over Christmas but wasn’t able to return. Her husband had remained in the US and, by the time the ban is lifted under current terms, she will likely be too far along in her pregnancy to fly.