What if I have to leave?

This week, amidst the upsetting and chaotic news of the executive order banning travel from seven predominantly muslim countries, people across the country have stood up for their friends, colleagues, and neighbors. This ban affects all of us, because in addition to harming the lives and careers of individual scientists the ban has terrible implications for science as an enterprise. Already many scientists have come forward to tell their stories.

The ban also blocks entrance of refugees for at least 3 months. While on the surface a refugee ban may seem not to directly affect scientists, if we look at our history it is scattered with success stories. Long term, the travel and refugee bans will stunt American leadership in the sciences when we can no longer recruit from the international talent pool.

This week, meet Azadeh Keivani and Sara (whose name we changed for anonymity), both from Iran, graciously chatted with us to tell us their story and discuss how it affects their science and their careers in science. At the end of this post we have included some resources regarding the ban and actions you can take.

First, meet Azadeh Keivani, Azadeh received her bachelor's degree from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Iran. She moved to the U.S. in 2008 to continue her PhD in Physics at Louisiana State University and graduated in 2013. For a few years she was a postdoctoral scholar in Astrophysics at Penn State and just this week she started at the astronomy chapter of Springer Nature publishing company, in NYC.

 Azadeh, how do the ban affect you directly today, both in terms of your ability to do work and ability to function?

I was a postdoctoral scholar till last Friday. I started my new job in a company on Monday (Jan 30th) and since my manager is in Germany, I had planned to go there for my training. In fact my manager invited two other colleagues to meet me there. However, with the current ban, I had to cancel my trip. Others had also scheduled their trip and now they have to change it all. My new job requires 30 of time for traveling. If this problem does not get resolved soon and I cannot travel, I will need to look for a new job.

 How does the ban affect your family, friends and colleagues?

My parents have applied for their visas and they are waiting for their visa administrative processing (the so-called clearance or background checks). Now everything is on hold. They had plans to come here for Persian New Year (March 20) when it is their holidays. For sure with the new ban on entrance, they cannot.

Many of my friends are recent graduates that have applied for their Optional Practical Trainings (OPTs) which is an extension to the student visa giving one the chance to look for jobs for a while and to start jobs ensuring a legal status. Now all USCIS processes are on hold and some of them will be out of status soon. All these years of studying and working in universities will result in nothing for them.

 No need to say how hard it was for old parents who flew in and got deported. Long flights and so many hours in the US airports without even seeing their kids for a second after all the years they'd been waiting… there are a lot of sad stories. Many of the stories have been shared on @YourNextDoorIranian Facebook page.

 It is worse for scientists and students and people in high tech professional companies who need to travel internationally all the time as well as to maintain their visa status

How does this influence your view of America as a country?

It changed my views in two ways: one thing is the new administration: they clearly don't like educated immigrants. As far as I know most of the recent immigrants from Iran (the country that I am knowledgeable about) are here for their graduate studies or they have already graduated and currently work in academia or industry. In addition they do not welcome immigrants and refugees who are already in trouble in their own countries.

On the other hand there has been amazing support from bright people around us in academia and high tech/cultural companies. I am very impressed by all the great support of many people which made me more interested in America (maybe about half of the America to be more realistic).


Now meet Sara. Sara received her Masters in Civil Eng. in Iran 2011. She began her PhD in 2014 in the US. 

How do the ban affect you directly today,  both in terms of your ability to do work and ability to function?

Every day I am asking myself: What if I have to leave before even finishing my PhD?  Where should I go and how can I start it over?  My research is about the traffic control systems in connected automated vehicle environments.

 How does this change your long term plans and the vision you have for yourself as a scientist?There are few countries equipped with this technology and if I can’t work here or there, then all I am doing is useless for my future career. Many international students who are working on high-tech topics will face the same challenge in future. 

How does this influence your views with America as a country?

Iran and the USA have had a lowest level of diplomatic relationship for the past 40 years. However, not even a single attack has done here by an Iranian. It was only last year that the nuclear deal, thanks to John Kerry and Javad Zarif, gave us sparks of hope. Unfortunately, this new administration reminds me of the Iranian government. Their new approach is not improving the lives of Americans nor American’s situation internationally.


Resources and information regarding the travel and refugee ban: 

 Stay informed: Here are a few pieces explaining the ban in more detail from the NYT and the Atlantic.

Resources & Contacts:

Take Action:

 Provide on the Ground Support:


Donate to organizations giving support:


Call your congress people:  

  • Running google doc tracking the positions of congress people have taken on the ban.
  • 5 Calls is a good way to contact lawmakers and say you stand against the ban. The idea is you enter your location and spend 5 minutes to make 5 important calls.
  • And this is a great guide to how to convince your congress people once they do pick up the phone.


For parents with kids:


Special thanks to @luckytran and @webmz_ for helping us put together this extensive resource list.