ASHG’s Response to the Latest Restrictions on Travel to the U.S.

Posted by: Nancy Cox, PhD, ASHG President

Nancy Cox, PhD, ASHG President

Back in March, when I wrote a letter to ASHG members explaining our opposition to the then-recently announced restrictions on travel to the U.S., I was hoping they would be struck down quickly by the courts without any lasting effects. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court released an opinion on the restrictions, and in doing so partially lifted barriers to their implementation that had been imposed by lower courts.

This Supreme Court decision allows the federal government to implement travel restrictions for an interim period while the court considers more fully the legal challenges. This interim set of restrictions applies to fewer people than the previous one, and it appears that people from the affected countries with documented, personal or professional connections to the United States will likely be admitted. This means that most of our members and meeting attendees should not be directly affected (though we continue to advise that you apply for your visa early).

However, even if this is the case, there is another, subtler effect. In the spring, we asked you to tell us your thoughts on these restrictions. We learned that beyond concrete worries about treatment in the U.S. and being able to return to one’s home country, there is also sadness about the sentiment and assumptions behind the policy, as well as concern about its effect on international scientific collaboration.

To those who shared their thoughts and experiences, thank you for your candor. We continue to invite comments from members whose personal lives, careers, and workplaces have been affected; you can write to us at

To those who worry about their travel to ASHG 2017 and other conferences, I want to reiterate that people from all nations are welcome at our meeting. Scientific ideas and findings don’t recognize national borders; indeed, they are strengthened and improved by crossing country lines and being discussed among diverse groups.

These policies are still in flux, and the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments for and against the travel restrictions in the fall, before coming to a final decision regarding their legality. In the meantime, we strongly urge non-U.S. meeting attendees to apply for a visa as early as possible. Once you submit an abstract or register for the meeting, you’ll be able to generate a letter of invitation, an important part of your visa application. Please don’t wait until your abstract is accepted to begin this process.

We will continue to monitor these policies as they are clarified, and will keep in touch about the need for further efforts.

Nancy Cox, PhD, ASHG President, directs the Vanderbilt Genetics Institute and is a Mary Phillips Edmonds Gray Professor of Genetics. She is also the Director of and a Professor of Medicine in the Vanderbilt Division of Genetic Medicine.

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