UMass Amherst student Mohsen Hosseini was among those from seven mostly Muslim countries unable to return to the U.S. after President Donald Trump signed an executive order on January 27th, restricting immigration. Hoseeini had an F1 Visa. He had a plane ticket. And in the days after the order was signed, he tried three times to get on a flight.
Finally, at the end of last week, he began a multi-part, no-guarantee journey toward Boston. Those waiting for him to return chartered his movements in emails and texts:
“He’s on his way to the airport in Tehran!”
“He got on the flight to Frankfurt!”
Then, no news for several hours. Then, this came through:
“He’s on the flight to Boston!”
And finally, in a voicemail:
“Hey there Jill, It’s Ken Reade calling.”
Reade works with students and faculty from overseas at UMass, and spent many long hours trying to get Hosseini, a PhD student in computer engineering, back to campus.
“It’s a little bit before 4 0’clock on Saturday,” the message continued. “I just wanted to relay the good news, that everything went really well here at the airport. Mohsen got in on time [and] pretty much went through immigration in about a half an hour. It’s quite unbelievable.”
A similar scenario — people waiting for news, sitting at airports, being turned away — had been playing out around the world, at other schools in the United States and beyond the academic world.
Back To Work
On Monday morning, Hosseini was back in an unadorned lab that looked like it had been furnished decades ago with the most basic of metal desks, chairs and shelving. It’s located in the basement of one of UMass’ oldest science buildings on campus. Hosseini could not have been more pleased to be there.
His lab mate, Ajay Subramanian — also a computer engineering PhD student, said that he actually felt a little responsible for Hosseini’s situation. He was the one one who drove him to Logan when Hosseini left for Iran.
“Once I heard about all this nonsense going on,” Subramanian said, “I felt really bad! Like, ‘Oh jeez. I just sent this guy off to a quagmire!'”
Before Hosseini left for winter break, he said his PhD advisor was concerned he was leaving the country and wouldn’t return until after Trump had been inaugurated. Hosseini asked staff at the school’s Office of International Programs if they anticipated any problems with his travel.
“They said, ‘[Trump] can’t void your visa, and if he wants [to], he can’t do it very quickly, because when you want to return to U.S., it’s about just seven days that Trump started [as president],'” Hosseini recalled.
Trump did the very thing Hosseini and others were worried about, about seven days to the day after he became president.
Between January 28th and January 31st, Hosseini was turned away twice at the airport in Tehran.
On the third try, February 3rd, he said goodbye to his family, but warned them that they might see him again in a few hours.
“When I left them, I said to them that I’m not sure that [I] can arrive to the United States! ‘Maybe I’ll be deported and see you again,'” Hosseini now joked.
But thanks to a temporary court order covering Logan Airport, and Lufthansa Airlines’ lenient reading of the rules, he made it to Germany, then Boston. By the the time he landed at Logan, a federal judge in Seattle issued an even broader injunction on Trump’s immigration policy.
At Logan, At Last
At Logan on Saturday, Hosseini was met by Ken Reade, his advisor Joe Barden and Barden’s four-year-old son. Two of his Iranian colleagues from the lab also came. They drove back to Amherst together, celebrated his return and then talked long into the night about what could be ahead.
“This problem is not just my problem,” Hosseini said. “There are a lot of Iranian people that worry what will happen in the next months, the next days. We discussed, ‘What can we do about this visa problem?'”
They can’t do much. So Hosseini said he will just focus on his his work. He has about 2-and-a-half years left in his research on computer circuit boards.
Big Life Moments
Being at an American graduate school is one of two big accomplishments for Hosseini over the past couple of years. The reason he was back in Iran over winter break was to get married.
When asked the date, he paused.
“Uh, exactly?” he paused. “I think 17 January!”
Hosseini didn’t forget. The date was just, momentarily, lost in translation.
Hosseini’s wife, who remains in Tehran for now, works in a biology lab.
“She has her master’s degree,” Hosseini said proudly.
She was planning to join him in the U.S., but her visa interview was canceled the same day Trump signed his immigration order. Hosseini’s visa is good until sometime in 2018. but he says he actually doesn’t trust that it’s valid — not given what happened over the past week.