A British academic who was denied entry to the US because she had conducted fieldwork in Sudan has claimed that the US has become a no-go area for hosting scientific meetings.
Katie Manning, an archaeologist at King’s College London, was due to give a plenary speech at the Cultural Evolution Society’s annual conference in Arizona this week, but she cannot now attend because her application for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) was rejected.
Dr Manning told Times Higher Education that she was denied entry on the basis that she had travelled to Sudan to conduct fieldwork in 2014.
She said that she had been to the US numerous times since the Sudan trip, but the US has tightened its policy around allowing entry to visitors who have travelled to six majority-Muslim countries covered by the Trump administration’s “travel ban”.
“Having looked into it subsequently, I believe that if you have been there on military service or as a journalist, then your ESTA is likely to be granted,” she said. However, Dr Manning continued, there was no option to declare that she had travelled to the country as an academic and there was no way to appeal the decision.
“A lot of these countries are the cornerstone of early civilisation…It’s not that surprising that an African archaeologist visits some of these countries,” she said. “The inability to add any further detail to me just seems utterly ludicrous.”
Dr Manning added that visitors who are denied an ESTA may apply for a full visa, but the process can take several weeks.
“Considering that I didn’t book my flights until two months before the trip, this is the sort of planning that is unrealistic in any academic work life and any academic schedule. Often, you don’t agree to give talks until a couple of months before,” she said.
“This whole process is making attendance at any scientific meetings in the States incredibly difficult.”
Based on feedback she received after sharing her situation on Twitter, she said that there was a “growing tide of people recognising that scientific meetings just can’t be held in the States”.
Robert Boyd, professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University and a member of the Cultural Evolution Society, told THE that Dr Manning was now due to deliver her speech by video, even though “this is a poor substitute for being able to interact with her here in Tempe”.
“Meetings play an important role in science because they allow investigators normally spread across the world to chat, brainstorm, create new friendships and renew older ones. Visa restrictions will make such meetings much more difficult, and so damage science as a whole,” he said.
“I will not be directly involved in organising the next meeting in 2020, but I am currently a member of the executive committee of the society and plan to argue that further meetings of the society should be scheduled outside the US until my country fixes its visa system.”
Eric Huysecom, associate professor of archaeology at the University of Geneva and president of the Society of African Archaeologists, said that the society’s biennial conference, which took place in June, was moved from New York to Toronto because it was “no longer possible to organise an Africanist international congress in the US”.
“This would automatically imply the exclusion of some of our African colleagues from countries declared non grata by the US, or even all Western or African colleagues working in these same countries, as well as the boycott of all colleagues who would be in solidarity,” he said.