Trump's travel ban blocks Afghanistan's all-girl robotics from attending STEM competition

Michele Moreno
July 4, 2017

One of the robot makers, 14-year-old Fatemah, joined her teammates to finish making the machine.

A team of six teenage Afghan girls has been prevented from fully participating in an global robotics competition, because they could not get visas to the United States.

The six students were refused visas after twice traveling about 800km (500 miles) from the western city of Herat, to the Amercian embassy in Kabul.

Roya Mahboob, who founded Citadel software company in Afghanistan and was the country's first female technology chief executive, is one of the team's sponsors.

We want to make a difference and most breakthroughs in science, technology, and other industries normally start with the dream of a child to do something great.

After months of checking, the US State Department appears to have accepted that the robot the girls were eventually able to construct will not suddenly shift from sorting balls into buckets to full terminator mode, and has allowed their creation to take part.

After making a 500-mile journey to the USA embassy in Kabul to apply for visas, an embassy which had been targeted in recent bomb attacks, the girls were notified their applications had been denied.

The U.S. State Department does not comment on the reasons for rejecting visa applications, however official figures show the difficulty of obtaining the kind of business travel visas sought by the girls, with only 112 granted in May, 2017.

Only team Afghanistan and team Gambia have been denied visas so far. They did this not just once, but twice in the hopes of securing seven-day visas to the US.

Teams from Iran, Syria and Sudan have been able to secure permits to travel, with Afghanistan and Gambia now the only competitiors denied visas. Thus, they could still compete in the FIRST Global Challenge, though the robot and its creators would be in separate countries, with the girls communicating through a video conference.

"No one is more saddened than me", said First Global President Joe Sestak. Other teams received their raw materials months ago in March, according to the Washington Post, but Afghan customs withheld the teams' supplies due to terrorism concerns. When the girls heard the news, she said, "they were crying all the day".

"It's a very important message for our people", Mahboob added.

While the U.S. government does not comment on individual applications, records show it is notoriously hard for people to get B1/B2 business travel visas from Afghanistan with just 32 in April of this year.

'We want to show the world we can do it, ' she said. The team of six will tune in to the event via Skype, and a group of young Afghan-American women will represent them at the event.

Other reports by Insurance News

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