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Travel ban to US leaves some UAE residents in bureaucratic limbo

ABU DHABI // Donald Trump’s decision to impose swingeing restrictions on travel to the US is not only an effective ban for thousands, but also leaves many in a bureaucratic limbo.

For Sudanese Lubna Hakim, whose mother Maryam has permanent residency in the US, the president’s executive order is effectively a locked gate.

Her mother travelled home to Sudan to visit family for an extended holiday. But when it came time to go back, she found that she was barred from going home to her family in Boston.

Speaking on her mother’s behalf, Ms Hakim said that aside from her mother being unable to go home, she might not receive a previously scheduled medical treatment.

“She was expected to go on the 28th. She has a green card, yet she can’t go back. Her operation on her knee is in March. She left about two months ago and everything she owns is there [in Boston], thinking that she would go back,” Ms Hakim said.

Maryam received permanent residency after her son became a naturalised US citizen, working for a big American company. She had spent the past five years living with her son and his American-born wife in Boston, but must now remain with her daughter until a solution is found.

Having called lawyers in the US, the family is still unsure how the mother would be treated on arrival in the US.

“The thing is, the confusion going on, is unsettling. [There are] a lot of questions going on around the world,” Ms Hakim said.

“I am feeling, he’s [Donald Trump] trying to kill these countries. If you don’t allow transactions, you’re killing the economy, and you’re tearing families apart. My mum has no one else to live with, I can’t have her here indefinitely. I will try but, at the same time, her life is there, and it affects her health. We just want to know.”

The situation for Ahmed Bushra, also a Sudanese, is almost identical.

Mr Bushra, 24, who has been living in the US since 2013, flew to Abu Dhabi a month ago.

Although he is a permanent resident with a green card and has his whole family in Maryland, he is confused about what will happen when he attempts to travel home next week.

“I’m stuck here and I don’t know my situation,” he said.

“I emailed the US embassy in Abu Dhabi and they didn’t get back to me. And when I called, they told me to send an email.”

He said he felt lost, stranded in the UAE. “It’s totally confusing. The least they can do is issue a statement for green card holders. I read the whole executive order and it was generalised for a reason to cause that confusion. It’s a mess.”

Hana Mire, a 26-year-old Somali film producer, tried to apply for a student visa yesterday for travel to the US next month but was turned away at the embassy in Abu Dhabi.

“It’s frustrating,” she said. “I’ve been travelling to the US for my documentary, yet they said they won’t take my application and don’t recognise my passport.”

Although Ms Mire, who was born and raised in Abu Dhabi, was invited to New York for an educational programme by an organisation that supports female documentary filmmakers and of which she is a fellow, her project will have to wait.

“It took three months for them to do a security check last year when I got my four-month visa and I was surprised when I got it,” she said. “It’s very hard and very annoying because one of the biggest supporters for my film is from the US and now everything will change. People from the US won’t fund me any more because they’ll see I’m Somalian, which is a big shame because we were planning on premiering at Sundance [film festival] in the US in 2018.”

Another personally affected by the new rules is Abdullah Ahmed, 33, a British-Iraqi who lives in Dubai.

For him the 90-day ban poses a problem because he had planned to move to the US in the summer to pursue a graduate degree.

“I will not be able to apply for a student visa because they’ve shut down applications from people who are nationals from these countries until the ban is lifted. If it is lifted at all,” said Mr Ahmed, whose family lives in New York and Florida.

“It throws a lot of uncertainty as to whether I will be able to go or not. I can’t rely on an assumption that this ban will be lifted after 90 days.

“My parents have green cards so they can’t leave the US because then they won’t let them back in, and I can’t travel even though I have a 10-year visa, so I can’t see my parents.”

He said the ban was disappointing. “I didn’t think it would be this bad,” he said. “I thought there would be more vetting and some restrictions but I didn’t think it would be this egregious, especially as a lot of the cabinet members had previously said a Muslim ban would be unacceptable. The way this was constructed runs foul of what I thought were American values and people.”

Mr Ahmed, who travels to the US five to six times a year, is preparing for the eventuality that the ban will not be lifted at all. “I’m going to see if there are any similar programmes in London and Paris or stay here for the time being and figure out a way to see my parents eventually,” he said.

“I have a lot of friends working for American companies. They have to have regular meetings in the US and they don’t know if they’ll be able to continue. If there is a terrorist attack in the US before the end of the ban, they will probably extend it.”

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