International Immigration Advice for MBAs in the Trump Era

Phil Caruso, Contributor

On January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump took the extraordinary step of issuing an executive order suspending the admission into the United States of foreign nationals from seven countries—Libya, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen—for ninety days.  Refugees were banned for 120 days, while Syrian refugees were banned indefinitely.  As the ban was implemented, chaos ensued, and many people attempting to travel to the U.S. were affected.  Deportations, protests, and lawsuits abounded.

On February 3, 2017, a U.S. federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against enforcement of the travel ban.  Although the Trump administration appealed the restraining order, it was upheld by a U.S. appeals court.  The Trump administration vowed to appeal, and announced it would issue a new executive order keeping a version of the ban in place while addressing the legal concerns raised by the courts.  Pending the issuance of that order, the Trump administration requested to put on hold its appeal of the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.  However, on February 27, 2017, the U.S. appeals court refused to hold the case.  As a result, the Trump administration will be soon forced to proceed with its appeal or withdraw it.

The language of the travel ban, and possibly any additional bans enacted, have been broad.  As a result, even if you are not a national of a country named in a ban, you could be barred from entering or re-entering the U.S.  For example, if you are a national of a country that is not banned, but you travel to or through a banned country, you may be denied entry to the U.S.  If you traveled to a banned country before the ban, you might still be denied entry to the U.S.  If the latter case applies to you, consider travel outside the U.S. carefully.  Permanent residents (“green card” holders) should also be careful—if you’ve traveled to a banned or soon-to-be-banned country, you could be detained at the border or even refused entry.  If you are a permanent resident, do not sign a Form I-407, because you could relinquish your residency.

Although the ban is currently not enforced, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security—including its agencies such as the U.S. Border Patrol, Customs & Border Protection (CBP), and Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE)—have stepped up enforcement of all immigration laws and policies.  As someone with experience in federal law enforcement and immigration issues, I’ve compiled a few tips for international students to make travel easier:

  1. Consider obtaining a Massachusetts Liquor ID if you don’t already have one.  While you will have to first obtain a Denial Notice from the Social Security Administration, this ID is sufficient for domestic travel in the U.S., and may help you avoid unnecessary questioning or detention as you travel domestically.  (see //
  2. Be aware that U.S. law enforcement officials may “inspect” your electronic devices at the border.  Although forensic searches are not allowed, “inspections” are authorized by the Department of Homeland Security.  If you are asked to unlock a device or enter your password, comply.  If you don’t, your device will be seized and you could be detained for up to five days.  If this concerns you, do not travel with electronic devices.  Those students with family and/or contacts in banned countries should be extra careful.
  3. Carry identification at all times.  U.S. law enforcement officials have recently conducted “spot checks” for undocumented immigrants, including on commercial flights.  Have all of your personal identification and travel documents (passport with visa, I-20, I-94, etc.) ready.  
  4. If you are detained or questioned, be cooperative.  This may seem obvious, but travel is stressful as it is, and tensions can flare.
  5. Be prepared to answer questions about your status, travel itinerary, and school attendance in the U.S.  Regardless of whether you possess a F-1 or J-1 visa, maintain records of your visa, enrollment in school, I-20, I-94, and any other evidence of your reason for being in the U.S.  The better you can answer questions, the easier any screening will be.  
  6. If a new ban is enacted and you are from an affected country, consult with an immigration lawyer.  If you leave the U.S., you may be detained even with a valid visa, or at worst, denied re-entry.  Depending on your port of entry, you may need an immigration lawyer to make your case with CBP.

This is not the proudest chapter of U.S. history, but like me, many Americans want to help in whatever way we can.  Navigating the U.S. immigration system is not easy, and we are here for you at Harvard and at HBS.  The Harvard International Office also stands by to assist.  If you are traveling and face difficulty, you can also reach Harvard Travel Assist at 617-998-0000 or, where case managers will advise you and notify the Harvard International Office immediately to help.  


Phil Caruso is a student and Tillman Scholar at Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School.  He is a member of the Truman National Security Project and graduate of the U.S. Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.  Prior to his studies, he worked as a criminal investigator and Special Agent.

March 28, 2017

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