Mostafa Rajaai: an open letter to Boris Johnson

Thursday 02-02-2017 - 14:53

NUS’ International Students’ Officer, Mostafa Rajaai, writes an open letter to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Boris Johnson.

Dear Boris Johnson,

I am contacting you as the representative of international students in the UK, many of whom are now subject to Donald Trump’s recent Executive Order -or “Muslim ban” - and also on behalf of British dual nationals of the seven targeted countries both in the UK or studying in the US.

Muslim students are a notable proportion of the membership of the National Union of Students. While not all have been directly affected by the ban, many have been disturbed by the racist and Islamophobic nature of the ban. The ban racialises Muslims as a group, thereby affecting Muslims and non-Muslims, not only from the targeted countries but also from Britain and many other countries worldwide. Moreover, the ban’s targeting of students and scholars is antithetical to the movement of people and ideas that is necessary for the thriving of research and knowledge. The ban prevents students and scholars from conducting fieldwork, attending conferences and even visiting family, on the basis of their racial or ethnic origin. On a more personal note, my entire family and I - all Iranian or dual nationals - are also directly affected by this ban.

As you know, Donald Trump’s recent Executive Order was based on an Obama-era law passed in December 2015 (‘H.R. 158’). This already subjects dual nationals of Britain and the seven targeted countries to a separate (costly, time-consuming and humiliating) “Muslim” visa process when entering the US - one from which other British citizens are exempt. Other British citizens enter the US without a visa through the “visa waiver program.” Although over the last week the British government has been pushing to get exemptions for its dual nationals affected by the racist Executive Order, it has still done nothing about the earlier law, H.R. 158, and the discriminatory visa process it continues to impose on British nationals. This has effectively allowed the American government to unilaterally create second class citizens of certain British citizens.

Since Friday, NUS has been contacted by a number of British nationals studying in US universities.

All are now concerned about their unstable status in the US, how they will be able to continue their research and when they will next be able to visit family members here in the UK and elsewhere. One British PhD student was due to leave in three weeks to carry out her academic fieldwork in Sudan. Her university is now telling her not to leave the US - therefore putting her research indefinitely on hold - for fear that she will not be able to re-enter to complete her PhD programme, or worse, in case she is detained and deported at the border.

These students want more than clarified information from their government. They want to be assured that that their government will stand up for them in the face of this ban - as well as the tackling its root, the discriminatory H.R.158 law that preceded it.

We at the National Union of Students are seeking assurances that you as Foreign Secretary, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the government, are doing everything in your power to secure the right of British students and British nationals to enter or re-enter the US to study, work or visit families without fear of detention and deportation, irrespective of their entitlement to or having dual nationality.

If the UK, a country that many of us international students see as our second home, is so quick to be complicit in such a draconian policy, how can we be sure the same thing is not going to happen to us here in Britain?

We were pleased to hear your comments that the ban is "divisive and wrong”, however we were very concerned to see the US embassy in London state just hours later that "nationals or dual nationals holding valid immigrant or nonimmigrant visas will not be permitted to enter the United States during this period."

Therefore we are writing to request immediate clarification from you that:

1. UK-based students who hold dual citizenship between the United Kingdom and one of the seven countries affected by Donald Trump’s travel ban will have the right to travel in the same way as other British citizens to and from the United States, including to and from any of the seven countries listed in the Executive Order.

2. British nationals who hold dual citizenship with one of the seven countries affected by Donald Trump’s travel ban, who also study or work in the US, will have the right to travel in the same way as other British citizens to and from the United States, including to and from any of the seven countries listed in the Executive Order.

3. You will publicly condemn the Executive Order in its entirety, and without reservation, as a discriminatory and racist attack on the rights of Muslims worldwide.

4. You will publicly condemn the H.R.158 law which preceded the Executive Order, whereby the US government continues to impose a separate visa process for British nationals purely on the basis of their dual citizenship.

Your website says, "The FCO promotes the United Kingdom's interests overseas, supporting our citizens and businesses around the globe.” We are asking that you uphold that mission by defending the right of UK— or US-based British students and nationals to be free from racial, religious or ethnic discrimination when travelling.


Mostafa Rajaai
International Students’ Officer,
National Union of Students



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