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Couple in Singapore bound for US in limbo after Trump’s travel ban

Iraqi researcher at the National University of Singapore and her husband told that the US embassy is ‘watching the headlines’ just as they are

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 February, 2017, 11:39am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 February, 2017, 11:41am

By Kenneth Cheng

Iraqi researcher Zaineb Al-Qazwini and her American husband, Mr Randy Olsen, are in limbo after they failed to get any clarity from the American embassy in Singapore yesterday on whether she would make it past immigration should the couple return to the United States.

Mr Olsen had resigned from his job, they have begun selling household items such as electrical appliances and their baby daughter’s toys, and even served notice to end the tenancy of their flat in Queenstown, central Singapore.

But just weeks before they were due to head home, their plans fell into disarray after US President Donald Trump signed an executive order last Friday, barring citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations — including Iraq — from entering the US for 90 days.

“Just one week ago, we were planning to book our flights, and three days ago, we were thinking we have to start looking for jobs in Singapore,” Dr Al-Qazwini, 33, told TODAY.

The Straits Times reported earlier this week that Mr Olsen, a sales operations director, had gone to the embassy last Friday, but it was closed for the Chinese New Year holidays. The 39-year-old had put out a Facebook post on their predicament on Sunday.

Mr Olsen visited the embassy yesterday morning, but the couple were none the wiser.

“They were very helpful, but they said they have been given no instructions and that, literally, the words they said were, they were watching the headlines just like me,” said Mr Olsen, who had spoken with an embassy staff member.

Dr Al-Qazwini added, “(The embassy staff) were very nice … they sympathised, but they gave no instruction on how to deal with the situation. They were not able to advise us … if we fly next month, will we be allowed in without problems.” Nevertheless, the embassy said it would get in touch with the couple as soon as it received word, Mr Olsen added.

An Iraqi citizen, Dr Al-Qazwini, a research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) department of biomedical engineering, received her green card — which grants permanent residency in the US — in December last year.

Both her and Mr Olsen’s Singapore Employment Passes expire soon, and the family — including their daughter Ishtar, who turns two in May — have to leave within 30 days after their employment ends.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, US embassy spokesperson Camille Dawson said it could not discuss the specifics of individual cases because of privacy considerations and the confidentiality of visa records.

Ms Dawson said the embassy has received several inquiries “regarding the executive order and travel to the United States”.

The inquiries about green-card holders have been referred to the US Department of Homeland Security, she added.

Dr Al-Qazwini said the family was considering relocating to California, since Mr Olsen’s family lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their plan was to stay with them for a while until they find a home.

Dr Al-Qazwini’s research project at NUS, which began about two-and-a-half years ago, is ending soon, and the funds have been used up.

“I’ll have to look for, maybe, a new project or position. (This is) also tough because usually these things don’t happen within two, three months,” she said.

She added, “Every day we wake up to new news … our plans are being changed … We’ve no idea (what’s going to happen). We’ll wait this week and see if the embassy will be able to advise anything. If not, we’ll have no choice but try to find jobs in Singapore.”

Couple bound for US in limbo after Trump’s travel ban