Trump Travel Ban Could Hamstring BioMed Community


President Donald Trump’s travel ban on individuals from seven countries may have long-term effects on the biomedical research community.

On Jan. 27, President Trump signed an executive order that banned travel into the U.S. for citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 90 days in what was aimed to provide a temporary safeguard against terrorists entering the country.

Almost immediately, we began to hear stories of scientists stranded and researchers afraid to leave the country out of fear they might not be able to return.

An article I wrote for Bloomberg BNA, after interviewing attorneys and university professors for their views, suggested a high degree of concern surrounding the situation.

Jennifer S. Geetter, an attorney with McDermott Will & Emery LLP in Washington who advises global life sciences and health-care clients, told me in a phone interview that the landscape concerning the ban is continually shifting, with the Trump administration addressing some issues while other questions and concerns keep cropping up. The consensus among those I talked to was that, even when short-term problems are addressed, the impact of the ban may continue.

“The ban is likely to have even longer-range negative effects by chilling the attraction of the best minds to come to the U.S. to work for biopharmas or for grad school or faculty positions,” Carol Pratt, an FDA regulatory attorney with Lee & Hayes LLC in Portland, Ore., told me in an e-mail. “The U.S. depends on non-U.S. talent, especially in the sciences. Chilling interest by that talent in coming to the U.S. for education or employment will impede the pace of innovation in the U.S.”

The article was posted late afternoon Feb. 1., and soon after that the American Medical Association posted a letter it had sent to President Trump asking for clarification about how the executive order affects physicians from those countries who are treating or plan to come to the U.S. to treat citizens in rural areas.

On Feb. 2, the White House clarified that the ban doesn’t affect the holders of green cards, which entitle the holders to remain in the country indefinitely.

But the day before, an Iranian genomics expert working at a lab in Switzerland who had received an offer to join post-doctoral training at a lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, sued President Trump, the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Security in federal district court for not letting her board the plane to Boston, even though she had been issued a visa. She remains in Switzerland, unable to travel, although she had resigned her position to work in the U.S.

Bloomberg BNA will continue to monitor both the short- and the long-term effects of this situation, which, those I talked to felt, will linger.

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