Skip to main content

Students From Somaliland Narrowly Gain Visas In Light of Travel Ban

Monday, September 11, 2017
2017/18 Somaliland Delegation
2017/18 Somaliland Delegation

For most ASSIST Scholars, obtaining a visa to study in the U.S. is just a matter of paperwork—paperwork that ASSIST and our American schools handle for students. But this year it was a much more uncertain process for three students from Somaliland, an as-yet unrecognized country within predominantly Muslim Somalia.

President Trump’s executive order banning travel from Muslim-majority countries created a dilemma for this year’s ASSIST scholars from Somaliland, despite ASSIST’s long relationship with the Abaarso School there. The school has been so uniquely successful that it’s been featured in the New York Times and Bloomberg Business Week, as well as on CNN and 60 Minutes.

The Abaarso School has partnered with ASSIST for the past four years to make an invaluable cultural and academic exchange between nations possible. Abdisamad Adan, one of the first ASSIST scholars from Abaarso School, became the first student from Somaliland to enroll at Harvard University. Each student from Somaliland has thrived, offering invaluable contributions and enriching their American exchange schools during their year in the U.S.

This year, in light of the travel ban affecting all students from Somaliland and other predominantly Muslim countries, ASSIST went to great lengths to advocate for its Somali students. The first step was finding three schools willing to secure a spot for these students despite the travel uncertainties—no easy feat, given the competitive and quickly-filled rosters of ASSIST partner schools.

After securing a spot for each student contingent on their visa applications, ASSIST Vice President Martin Milne and Jonathan Starr, the head of the Abaarso School, traveled to Capitol Hill in March to meet with members of Congress about securing travel ban exemptions that would enable these students to study in the U.S. Countless meetings, letters, and phone calls with legislators urged for greater awareness of the impact this travel ban could have on ASSIST and other programs like it.

Thankfully, an abundance of bureaucratic red tape this year delayed the travel ban long enough for ASSIST’s Somaliland scholars to have their visa applications approved before the ban officially took effect. But for next year’s prospective ASSIST scholars, the jury is still out.