Columbia Continues To Offer Scholarships To Syrians Despite Visa Ban

Despite Trump administration’s visa ban, a private university in New York is moving ahead with a scholarship program for displaced Syrian college students.

The Trump administration’s stringent visa regulations on potential immigrants are no secret. These orders have not only affected those who wish to move to U.S. for a better quality of life but have also indefinitely halted the processing of refugees from the war-torn Syria.

But, it appears President Donald Trump’s travel restrictions aren’t stopping a university in New York City from offering scholarships to Syrians.

Columbia University, the fifth chartered institution of higher learning in the country, is moving ahead with the second round of a scholarship program for displaced Syrian students.

In the program’s first year, the university not only allowed a handful of students into the institution but also gave scholarships, which included free tuition and housing, to four Syrian students. In the second round of program, the university is planning to offer similar set of opportunities to Syrian college students.

Since the institute has made the announcement, around 230 candidates have applied with the enrollment period still open. However, compared to the number of applicants last year, the figure this year is slightly less. The reason behind this could largely be attributed to concerns that some students are bound to have trouble entering the U.S. considering the president’s draconian travel limitations.

At the end of April, the Supreme Court will consider the travel ban against Syria and group of other nations. College administrators are hopeful that the court will strike down the restrictions.

"What we concluded was, we go forward," said Bruce Usher, a professor at the Columbia Business School, who worked on creating the scholarship program, said of plans in the meantime. "What we do is educate people. If we find that certain applicants are unable to attend ... hopefully they'll eventually be able to get a visa."

The latest ban targets issuing of visas for citizens of six countries — Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Yemen — along with certain Venezuelan government officials.

The rules for visas for temporary visitors, like tourists or students, vary among the countries, with Syrian citizens blocked from getting any.

However, when the Columbia created the program in 2016, such severe restrictions were not in place.

One of the Syrian students who was lucky enough to make it to Columbia University recounted his journey.

Columbia sophomore Qutaiba Idlbi, 28, was among the students who got a scholarship in the first round. Idlbi said he left Syria in 2011 after being detained by government security forces over his political activities.

He went on to give credit to the university as if it hadn't been for the scholarship, he would never have been able to afford school and may have had to leave the country. Moreover, Idlbi said the travel ban on Syrians “feels like a betrayal.”

He wasn’t wrong to point out that at a time when citizens of the battle-scarred country needed the most help, the U.S. barred them.

It reinforces a message, he said, that "we don't like you as a people, we don't want you here."

On the other hand, advocates of travel restrictions have defended the ban by saying the rules are necessary to make sure potential harmful travelers don’t cross the country’s border.

James Carafano, national security expert at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, said since Syria has been impaired because of the ongoing war, it is highly unlikely that the country has records needed to properly identify travelers.

Columbia is among several dozen higher-education institutions around the country trying to help displaced Syrians with financial aids and scholarships.

Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, an organization that focuses on International Student Exchange and Aid, said U.S. schools offering scholarships similar to the one at Columbia have assisted about 60 students so far.

"The number is tiny compared to the need but it is what we can do, and I think it's better to do something and save the lives you can," Goodman said.

However, he also mentioned due to difficulties in acquiring a visa in U.S. for Syrians, the organization is now placing them in universities outside of the country.

Banner Image Credits: Pixabay

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