Alaa Al-Sabeh, a Muslim engineering student born and raised in Hama, Syria, was accepted into the College of Engineering master’s program at Wayne State for the spring/summer semester.
He was in the process of finalizing his student visa when his interview with the U.S embassy was canceled on Jan. 28. He was then told not to apply again.
“I was so frustrated, I felt like I was left behind,” Al-Sabeh, 22, said. “I felt like no one was listening to me or would give me the opportunity for a five-minute interview. I spent a lot of money, a lot of effort and a lot of time doing this and I couldn’t even get my chances.”
A 2016 graduate from the University of Damascus, Al-Sabeh said prior to President Donald Trump’s executive order, the process to obtaining his F1 student visa was already lengthy and expensive. Currently living in Cyprus and visiting his family in Syria, he continues his efforts to enter the U.S. on a visa while the ban is temporarily lifted.
WSU’s Near Eastern Studies professor Saeed Khan said people fleeing “the brutality, chaos and carnage in Syria today” are suffering dislocation and destruction.
“[They] are also running through the gauntlet of a vetting system that takes a minimum of 18-24 months, involves a dozen federal agencies and at least six international organizations for their inspection,” Khan said.
Al-Sabeh, who now awaits his rescheduled interview set for Feb. 14, said he didn’t think the executive order would be so far-reaching.
“I knew it was going to be harder and more difficult to get a visa to the U.S. in the presidency of Donald Trump,” he said.
He said he dreams to complete his master’s degree in civil engineering at WSU because he wants to rebuild his home country. Al-Sabeh said he believes that an American education is the next step to pursuing his dreams.
“Now that I’ve seen the massive destruction happening now in Syria due to the war, I feel that I’m obligated and have even more motivation to go through my engineering career,” Al-Sabeh said.
“I’ve always believed in Syria as a great country, but it’s not right now. We have hardworking people. We have what it takes. I feel like one day, there will be management available and we should be there to start building the Syria that we dream of, the Syria we look forward to have. That will absolutely require a lot of distinguished engineers to rebuild this country,” he said.
Ahmad Ezzeddine, vice president of educational outreach and international programs at WSU, said if Al-Sabeh obtains his visa after the spring semester, he can defer his admission and will be able to start his education at WSU in the fall or winter term.
“We will continue to monitor the situation and update the information we provide our current and prospective students as it becomes available,” Ezzeddine said.
“Alaa represents the future of knowledge,” Khan said. “His admission to Wayne State affirms his academic talent and his ability to be a graduate engineering student is a much needed addition to the STEM field. The United States draws the best science and engineering students in the world, and Alaa would be able to use his degree to benefit a sector that has already has a shortage to meet the high demand of technology today.”
Khan said Syrians represent those seeking a better life in the U.S. and Alaa’s story resonates with “the long, storied tradition of America’s immigrant history.”
“While his particular plight might not apply to them, they are well aware that they, too, might experience a situation that is wrong and not of their doing,” Khan said. “They would appreciate the support and solidarity that Wayne State students are demonstrating.”
Within three days of discovering the news of Al-Sabeh’s visa status, WSU students part of Students Organize for Syria, Students for Justice in Palestine and Amnesty International held an emergency protest on Jan. 30 in support of him.
Al-Sabeh said the hundreds of protestors supporting him and the wide-circulated news of his story gave him hope.
“I’ve seen people all around the U.S. protesting in the cold weather,” Al-Sabeh said. “They’ve been with me all the way. Even though they have nothing to do with the executive order, they have shown interest in my story. I’m so grateful for all of you who stood next to me in these hard days. I feel so overwhelmed in a very good way.”
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