On June 26, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling allowing US President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban to be temporarily implemented. The ban prevents residents of six majority-Muslim countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — from entering the US, unless they have a documented “bona fide relationship” with a person or organization in the US.
As a university with global reach, the travel ban is prompting U of T to adopt new policies in order to adapt. “We’re constantly providing the latest information we can provide with any certainty about, for instance, the challenges that our students and staff and faculty may face in travelling to the United States,” Professor Joseph Wong, Associate Vice President and Vice-Provost, International Student Experience, told The Varsity.
The revised travel ban makes clear that Canadian citizens and permanent residents will not have their normal travel to the United States impeded. For instance, if a university student is from one of the countries affected by the ban, as long as they have residency in Canada and a visa to the US, they will still be allowed to visit. Similarly, the revised ban allows people with close family members living in the US, such as parents or siblings, to enter. It also differs from the original ban in that it has removed Iraq from the list of affected countries.
According to geography professor Emily Gilbert, however, the ban may still affect U of T students’ travel.
“[The US government] said that the intent is that people won’t be stopped,” Glibert told The Varsity. “But… looking at what happened with the first executive order, we see that even though people who are dual citizens and people who are travelling on Canadian passports were not part of the original order, they were definitely being stopped.” Gilbert worries that, because of the discretionary power the executive order gives border guards, students and faculty will hesitate before travelling.
“A lot of students who have research that’s based in the United States are really mindful about having to cross that border now, whether or not they are specifically targeted by the ban.”
She argued that the ban will signal to border officials that they ought to be disproportionately suspicious of people with Middle-Eastern heritage, saying that “the revised ban has tried to be more clear about how they’re trying to implement what I think is a very xenophobic and racist policy.”
The university’s position is that, while there is little they can do about the executive order itself, they hope that they can mitigate its effects by providing information to students, faculty, and staff. The university will also continue implementing policies designed to help international students transition to life in Canada, such as by providing immigration counselling.
Gilbert added that many academic groups are also reconsidering the accessibility of their conferences and are beginning to discuss alternative options. “I think that it’s made some of us who have, over the years, been able to travel across the border pretty easily much more aware of those kind of difficulties, and what it means to have some of the biggest international conferences in the United States year after year.”
When the original travel ban was signed in January, U of T President Meric Gertler called the ban “antithetical to everything we stand for as an institution and a country.” According to Wong, the university will continue to be vocal about the ban and to offer public support to those affected by it.
More broadly, the ban will likely contribute to the rise in applications from international students, a phenomenon dubbed the “Trump Effect.” As the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment makes US universities less attractive, Canadian universities have become a more competitive option for students from around the globe. As of May 1, applications by international students to the University of Toronto are up 24 per cent from last year. Applications from students in the US are up 71 per cent.
Wong added that, while the university has received more applications, they do not intend to increase the number of acceptances. “The expectation is that the number of international students as a percentage of our entire student body will stay roughly the same,” Wong said.