By: maniramm repaswal
US president Donald Trump’s administration has indicated for the first time that Pakistan could be included in a list of Muslim-majority countries from where immigration to the US has been banned.
It follows his controversial executive order last week barring refugees and people from seven mainly Muslim nations.
The travel ban has caused outrage among UK politicians and citizens, who have been speaking out against the measure, and the US president’s planned state visit to Britain.
And in another move set to make it harder for immigrants to enter America on work visas, skilled Indian professionals will need to be paid more than double the current requirement to be eligible for a H-1B visa, if a reform bill introduced in the US Congress becomes law. Foreign workers will need to earn at least $130,000 (£103,000) for the visa used by technology companies such as Microsoft and Google, among others, to employ people to work in the US.
Trump’s executive order, signed on Friday (January 27), triggered a wave of protests in the US and the UK. It halts the entire US refugee programme for 120 days, indefinitely banning Syrian refugees, and suspending all nationals from seven countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Somalia – from entering the country.
The Trump administration says the rules will increase national safety and are well within its powers.
Currently the executive order says that visitors from countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan are subject to “extreme vetting”.
On Tuesday (31), the US government granted waivers to let 872 refugees into the country despite the executive order, an internal Department of Homeland Security document said.
London’s first Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan slammed the ban, calling it prejudiced and said it would hurt rather than improve US security.
Khan said that “targeting people for no reason other than their faith or their country of birth is cruel, prejudiced and counterproductive.”
He made the comments at a meeting on Tuesday (January 31) of foreign dignitaries, including US chargé d’affaires Lewis Lukens and ambassadors from most of the countries affected by the ban.
The Labour MP, who is the son of Pakistani immigrants to the UK, has also called on prime minister Theresa May to cancel Trump’s planned state visit to London until the US president lifts the ban.
More than 1.6 million people have signed an online petition against the visit. However, May said Trump’s visit , which would include a banquet hosted by the Queen, will go ahead, and 90,000 people have signed a counter-petition supporting it.
In the US, Khizr Khan, the Pakistan-born father of a US Army captain killed in the Iraq war, and whose speech at the Democratic National Convention targeting Trump made global headlines last summer, told ITV his son would not have been allowed into America under a Trump administration.
“It’s unfair and makes my country unsafe, alienates patriotic Muslims and gives a platform to those who don’t wish us well,” Khan, whose son Humayun was killed in 2004, said on Monday (January 30).
Conservative Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a former cabinet minister, accused the British government of “bowing down” to Trump, and also demanded that May consider cancelling his state visit.
Baroness Warsi said ministers had to decide whether it was right for the UK to bestow the “highest honour” it can on a US president who holds such controversial views.
“Those who govern this country bowing down to a man who holds the views that he holds, values which are not the same as British values, I think is sending out a very wrong signal,” she said earlier this week.
She added: “[State visits] are an honour of the highest order that a country can bestow on a visiting dignitary. It’s lots of pomp and ceremony, banquets and gifts and flattering speeches, and all at the cost of the British taxpayer.
“We have to question whether this is something Britain should be doing for a man who has no respect for women, disdain for minorities, no compassion for the vulnerable and whose policies are rooted in divisive rhetoric.”
Peter Ricketts, a former head of Britain’s foreign ministry, said he was surprised the invitation had been issued so early into Trump’s presidency, and that it would have been possible to invite him without the ceremonials of a full state visit.
“My concern is the Queen will have acted on the government’s advice as she always does. Clearly there is now a lot of controversy around that,” Ricketts said.
“If the current level of protest and opposition goes on, then I do think the Queen is being put in a difficult position.”
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) told Eastern Eye the group had called on the UK government to speak out much more forcefully and stand up for the British values “it supposedly seeks from others”.
“We are told that British values include the rule of law and ‘mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith. Yet our prime minister has found it hard to express these values when representing us on the world stage.”
The organisation described the ban as “deeply worrying” and “discriminatory,” saying it played into the hands of the far right.
“Muslims will now feel under threat – those living in the US are now more prone to anti-Muslim attacks, and Muslims with dual nationality who either reside in or have family in America are stuck in no man’s land.”
Representatives from the MCB were set to take part in a protest on Saturday (4) outside the US embassy in London against “inequality, discrimination and hate”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the Liberal Democrats and Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, have all called for the state visit to be cancelled.
Scottish National Party politician Humza Yousaf told Eastern Eye that he was proud to be a member of the Scottish government led by a first minister who had taken an unequivocal stance and condemned president Trump’s executive order.
“This policy is divisive and security experts have said it is likely to be counterproductive in the fight against terrorism. Let alone adding any other countries to this list, president Trump should do the honourable thing and rescind his executive order at the earliest opportunity,” Hamza said.
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said the countries which feature on the banned list are included because they were the seven that were most identifiable with dangerous terrorism taking place in their country.
“These are countries that harbour and train terrorists. These are countries that we want to know who is coming and going in and out of to prevent calamities from happening in this country,” he added.
Meanwhile, a coalition of US technology firms has begun planning a joint legal strategy challenging Trump’s executive order barring refugees and many Muslims from American soil, sources said.
More than 20 firms from the sector were expected to attend a meeting to discuss legal options on the ban, which is likely to have a large impact on Silicon Valley and other tech firms that employ thousands of immigrants.
Companies such as Apple Inc, Google and Microsoft Corp offered legal aid to employees affected by the order, according to letters sent to staff.
Several Silicon Valley executives are also donating to legal efforts to support immigrants facing the ban.
Tesla chief executive Elon Musk and Uber head Travis Kalanick both said on Twitter they would take industry concerns about immigration to Trump’s business advisory council, where they serve. (With agencies)