8 July 2020

AAS President's Message on Visa Suspensions

Paula Szkody

Paula Szkody University of Washington, Seattle

Dear Colleague:

As you may be aware, President Trump issued a proclamation on 22 June that suspends entry visas that directly impact a number of our international colleagues. The document references H, J, L, and E visas. J-1 visas for STEM academic categories were spared, and people with H-1B visas who are currently in the US were to be allowed to remain. However, as of this week, even those exceptions have been reduced as the administration has specifically targeted international students, thus adding F and S visas to the list of those impacted within the last couple weeks. This, along with the suspension of entry for H-1B visa holders from the June proclamation, is devastating to many early career scientists, and the sentiment behind the order is deeply unsettling for all of us. The proclamation’s stated justification is to protect highly skilled jobs for US citizens as the country recovers from the economic devastation of COVID-19 in the months (and very likely years) ahead. The resulting impact is that lives and careers are being further disrupted during a time of unprecedented hardships caused by the pandemic, and all of this is disproportionately affecting our early career community members.

Presidential Proclamation Title
The title of President Trump's proclamation on the White House website.

The policy announcement requiring international students to take in-person classes to keep their visa status is equally cruel and misguided. The extent of the damage it will do to the tens of thousands of international students who come to the US to study every year is yet to be understood, but we know it causes massive disruptions in their learning and research. The damage this will do to our community will likely be similarly devastating.

We cannot become numb to the administration’s numerous actions to limit or even eliminate the many forms of immigration to the United States. To the members of our community who are directly impacted by this decision, we stand with you. You are us, and we are you. The innumerable contributions that foreign-born individuals make to the culture and scientific progress of the United States should be self-evident to even a casual observer. We can’t imagine a day without positive and fruitful interactions. Those of us with the protections of citizenship need to stand up for those of us without.

The academic and business communities pulled out the stops to prevent this proclamation, and while this resulted in a softening of some of the measures, they were ultimately unsuccessful. The Trump administration is determined to dismantle our immigration system, regardless of the humanitarian or economic impacts. I admit that realistically the AAS likely won’t be able to succeed where many other more powerful organizations have failed, but we must do what we can to demonstrate our opposition.

We are working in concert with other scientific organizations and professional societies to formulate a strategy and register our opposition to these policies. In the coming days, you will  see an action alert from the AAS Public Policy Office asking you to contact your representatives in Congress to share your stories of how the administration’s immigration policies have harmed and will continue to harm you both as a professional and as a human being. In addition, we will be looking into supporting the major lawsuits that are certain to spring from this latest proclamation, both as an individual Society and together with other organizations in the astronomical sciences and beyond, as the whole research and academic enterprise.


Paula Szkody
AAS President