UPDATED: Former PhD student unable to claim department award due to executive order

Sunday, February 5, 2017 - 2:43pm

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This article has been updated to include remarks from the PhD student in question.

Iranian researcher Hamed Razavi recently received the Sumner Myers Award in January for best mathematics thesis at the University of Michigan. However, the University Ph.D. graduate will not accept the award in person due to President Donald Trump’s recent executive order that barred immigration from citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran.

Razavi is currently in Switzerland doing his post-doctoral research at the Biorobotics Laboratory of the ‌École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. According to a public Facebook post from University mathematics Prof. Karen Smith, Razavi’s visa process has been halted.

“His visa application process has been suspended by the recent Presidential Executive Order restricting immigration from several countries,” Smith wrote. “Welcome to Trump's new ‘great’ America, where the USA's status in science will continue to plummet.”

At the end of January, Trump released an executive order that halts citizens of Muslim-majority countries such as Syria and Somalia from traveling or immigrating to the United States for a period of three months. The order sparked criticism and protest across the countries, as many viewed it to be discriminatory toward Muslims and fatal toward those fleeing violence in their home countries.

Judge James Robart of Seattle temporarily blocked the order this weekend, ruling that all green card and visa holders should still be allowed to enter the country during this period.

It is uncertain how this development will affect Razavi’s ability to enter the country.

The University community was concerned about the effects the travel ban might have on higher education as a whole. Several petitions have circulated around the University, asking for administration support of refugees who were affected by the order.

University President Mark Schlissel released a statement last weekend affirming the University’s commitment to its international students, staff and faculty.

“The university complies with federal requirements associated with managing its international programs,” Schlissel wrote in his statement. “Otherwise, the university does not share sensitive information like immigration status.”

In an email interview, Razavi shared he had applied for a visa to come to the U.S. on January 25, and heard about the ban just days later.

Iranians and some other nationalities normally go under some background checks before their US visa applications can be approved,” Razavi wrote. “I was not surprised that I was subject to background checks even after living in the US for many years, but preventing from going back to my University for a couple of days to give a talk was indeed shocking.”

Razavi had never lived in America before coming to the University, but he said everyone he met in the U.S. was friendly and welcoming, and have showed support throughout the past week in an otherwise frustrating situation.

What made feel better about the whole situation was how people and my colleagues at Michigan reacted when they learned I cannot come to the US for the talk because of the travel ban,” he wrote. “I received many messages from my colleagues saying they were sorry about the situation and hoped that things will change soon. I am happy that this Executive Order is not a representative of a lot people in the US.”

Smith’s post has been shared more than 120 times, and other members of the University community showed their support for Razavi and distaste for the ban in comments on the post.

Peter Scott, mathematics professor, is in charge of organizing the event that will honor Razavi’s research and his award. He has been in communication with Razavi since last week, when he realized that Razavi might be affected by the ban.

“He said his application had made it, but that it was stuck in the system,” Scott said. “I assume it will stay stuck in the system, though… and we probably won’t be able to fix it [so that he can come] in the next couple months because I don’t think it’ll be sorted out by then”

According to Scott, the program doesn’t have any currently enrolled students from any of the seven countries included in the ban. However, he said they are currently accepting new students, and have been instructed by Rackham administration to admit students as they normally would and worry about citizenship and visa technicalities later. 

In a follow-up comment on her post this past weekend, Smith updated followers on how the Math department would proceed with the situation.

“We hope Razavi will give his Sumner Myers talk in Switzerland and we will livestream it on a big screen to our colloquium,” Smith wrote.