Medical community, universities worried about impact of Trump travel ban

Trump travel ban could hurt medical school recruitment, strand students

Amir Manbachi, a biomedical engineering researcher at Johns Hopkins University, will have to apply for a new work visa in May to continue his studies in America, but is scared he will get declined under Donald J. Trump's travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

While Manbachi, 32, is a Canadian citizen, he was born in Iran, one of the countries whose citizens Trump temporarily banned from coming to the United States. An executive order he signed last week also put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the country.

While a federal judge halted the order to ban people from those countries, it has left many immigrants like Manbachi feeling uncertain about their research and education prospects here and universities and medical schools worried about how it will affect recruitment efforts.

In addition to having to apply for a new visa, Manbachi is nervous about flying back to Canada to visit his girlfriend for Valentine's Day because he fears U.S. customs officials might not let him return.

"My entire academic career may get stranded," said Manbachi, who has developed a medical device to help treat brain tumors as part of his research.

Kathleen Cullen, a professor who recently moved her research group from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, to Hopkins, is worried too. One of her prized students is still stuck in Canada.

"It has become more complex of a mission," she said of the move from Canada. "It is not optimal for the science we are doing."

The student, Omid Zobeiri, is Iranian and first applied for a visa in June. He has sent emails to U.S. immigration officials inquiring about the status of his application and was told they could not provide any information. He is concerned about even more delays under the Trump administration, and wonders if he will ever get approval.

"The bad thing is I can't predict what will happen in the future," Zobeiri said.

Cullen and academic recruiters said the ban could make it hard to attract the best students and researchers from around the world. Hopkins is considering another student from Iran, and Cullen worries the candidate may choose not to come or not be allowed in the country if he is accepted.

Medical schools around the country are currently going through the "match process" where they rank students they want to study at their institution. Some schools might rank students from the seven countries lower because of the uncertainty of whether they would be allowed to enter the country, said Jessica Bienstockassociate dean for graduate medical education at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"The amount of uncertainty that this decision throws into the process is tremendous," Bienstock said. "Programs will be hesitant to make formal requests to students from the affected countries. If you make a commitment to someone from one of these countries they may not be able to come and then you have a hole in your residency program."

She said it hurts the medical school's ability to meet its mission.

"Our program mission is to train doctors and leaders from around the world and we may not be able to do that," Bienstock said.

A spokesman with The University of Maryland Medical Center said in a statement that the hospital is closely monitoring potential impact the ban could have on patients, faculty, researchers, students and healthcare providers

Should we identify any problems, we are committed to helping those we serve and those who serve our patients overcome any barriers," the statement said.

Dr. Jay A. Perman, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore also said administrators are working to determine the implications for students, faculty and staff.

"As we investigate what this order means for those within our academic community, we hold tight to our shared principles, which remain unaltered by this executive action: that UMB is enriched by the scholarly contributions of people from around the world; that we will maintain our openness to the talent that resides in citizens of all nations; and that we will work to ensure that U.S. law -- which we will follow -- is consistent with our University values," Perman said in a statement.

amcdaniels@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/ankwalker

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