In 2013, Nimo Ismail graduated from Abaarso School in Somaliland, an independent region of Somalia, and became the first student from Somaliland or Somalia in decades to be offered a scholarship for university study in the United States. Since then, Abaarso has sent over 50 Somali students to America on full scholarships, including Harvard, Yale, Brown, MIT, Amherst, Swarthmore and Brandeis, building a generation of Somali leaders in the process.
At Oberlin College, Nimo studies political science, and has held leadership positions on the school’s Honor Committee, Student Senate, and African Student Association. When Nimo graduates in May, she will return to Somaliland to help start a women’s college, partially funded by USAID, the U.S. government international development agency, aimed at training teachers who can fill holes in Somaliland’s severely underdeveloped educational infrastructure. We “come to U.S. with the intention of getting the education and the skills that we need to better our country,” says Nimo. “Banning us from entering the U.S. will only make our goals that much harder to achieve.”
There are tens of thousands of talented students like Nimo across seven countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – whose ability to access a U.S. education is now in jeopardy because of the recent executive order signed by President Trump blocking visas and immigration from these countries. According to the Institute of International Education, approximately 17,000 students are currently studying in the United States from these seven countries.
Another group of students affected by Trump’s recent executive order is refugees, whether from Rwanda, DRC, Burundi, Somalia or other African nations affected in recent years by strife. These students have excelled against all odds in refugee camp schools and have gained scholarships to universities in the U.S., but without the benefit of citizenship they can only travel on UN-issued refugee travel documents. Refugee students too will be barred from gaining U.S. student visas under Trump’s order.
The HALI Access Network (www.haliaccess.org) is a membership association of nonprofit organizations and schools dedicated to supporting high-achieving, low-income African students to gain access to study at top universities. We represent twenty-seven organizations who are currently working with over 1500 African students. Our students hail from all over the continent and include refugees as well as students from Sudan and Somalia. While their life stories may vary, our students all see education as the key to developing themselves, their families, their communities and their countries. They have overcome adversity to shine and share the very American values of initiative, fierce determination and resilience, open-minded tolerance and integrity. They contribute greatly to their U.S. college and university communities as shining beacons of hope.
“Armed with the exposure of a quality higher education in the United States, our students can make an immeasurable positive impact on their collective home communities, especially in unstable and post-conflict countries. Barring them from studying in the United States not only closes off this opportunity for our students to be agents of positive change, but also shortchanges the American colleges and communities who can learn from their diverse perspectives and experiences,” says HALI Access Secretary Rebecca Zeigler Mano, who directs Education Matters in Zimbabwe.
We, the members of HALI Access Network, believe that President Trump’s recent ban on visas to citizens of these unstable countries puts this development strategy at risk. Shutting these students out of U.S. universities is devastating for their dreams, and compromises America’s security and standing in the world. These young men and women are in a unique position to use the education that they receive in the United States to become leaders in areas of the world where their skills and values are needed the most, in turn helping to stabilize and develop countries that are strategically important to the United States.
International educational exchange both promotes American security and enhances America’s reputation abroad. Educating young men and women from conflict zones, refugee camps and developing countries is an investment in stable leadership, peaceful development, good governance and human rights in exactly the places that are most critical to America’s security. A much bigger risk than bringing these students to the United States is shutting them out.
The State Department should amend the executive order banning immigration from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and refugees to create an exemption for student visas. Shutting these future leaders out of the United States and her great universities will waste a generation of talent and lose an opportunity to build understanding in the corners of the world where it is needed most.
The HALI Access Network