For one Syrian Ph.D. student in Pittsburgh, Trump’s travel ban may mean leaving the U.S.

Husni Almoubayyed is one of an estimated 100-plus international students affected by the ban in Pittsburgh.

Protesters at Pittsburgh International Airport

Protesters at Pittsburgh International Airport

Sarah Anne Hughes / The Incline
Sarah Anne Hughes

When Husni Almoubayyed came to Pittsburgh in August, he had not considered a scenario in which Donald Trump would become president of the United States.

He had arrived to begin a Ph.D. program at Carnegie Mellon University thinking Hillary Clinton would be elected.

She wasn’t.

After Trump’s election, Almoubayyed, who was born in Syria, said he worried about the possibility of immigration restrictions. But there was also “a lot of speculation that Trump would not go ahead with his promises,” especially the more extreme ones.

He did.

On Friday, the president signed an executive order that suspends the refugee program for 120 days, stops resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S. indefinitely and bans citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. The order applies to Almoubayyed, as well as an estimated 100-plus international students at Pittsburgh universities. 1

“I was not expecting this to be one of those things [Trump] would sign in his first week,” Almoubayyed said.

Almoubayyed is a 22-year-old Ph.D. student in cosmology and astrophysics and a teaching assistant at CMU. He was born in Damascus and lived there for the first 18 years of his life. Almoubayyed, who also has Turkish nationality, moved to Scotland to get his undergrad in physics at the University of Glasgow and started applying to graduate programs a year ago.

He had been to Pittsburgh before and liked the city and CMU. Out of his options, CMU seemed to best fit his research interests, namely astrophysics. He plans to become an academic.

Under Trump’s executive order, Almoubayyed, who’s here on a student visa, would not be allowed to reenter the U.S. if he traveled abroad. His family members, none of whom live in the U.S., cannot visit him here.

He’s one of an estimated 50 students at CMU affected by the travel ban. According to the university, six students from Syria were enrolled as of the fall 2016 semester, 33 from Iran, five from Sudan, two from both Libya and Iraq and one from both Somalia and Yemen.

“If you are a national of one of these countries, you cannot re‐enter the US, EVEN IF YOU HAVE A VALID VISA, for at least the next 90 days,” Linda Gentile, director of CMU’s Office of International Education, wrote in an email to these students. “Based on this Order, we advise that you not depart the US while this order is in effect.”

The University of Pittsburgh, where more than 60 students appear to be affected, directed concerned students to contact their Office of International Services immigration specialist.

Dozens of academics from both schools, as well as Duquesne, have signed a petition denouncing the ban. Hundreds of people protested the order in Oakland on Saturday and at Pittsburgh International Airport on Sunday.

International enrollment at Pittsburgh universities, fall 2016


Almoubayyed’s program is five years long.

If the 90-day ban becomes something more permanent, Almoubayyed, whose education is fully funded by CMU, said he’d have to consider leaving the U.S. and transferring elsewhere.

“I know there are a lot of students in the same position as me right now,” he said. “A lot of them might be forced to leave.”

His family lives in different places outside of Syria, and not being able to see them for five years means “it’s probably not very feasible to stay.”

“For Syria, it’s very likely it’s going to be forever,” he said of the travel ban, “or indefinitely” — to borrow Trump’s term.