Dr. Vincent DeGennaro Jr. | February 26, 2017
“Do you know the visa process in the U.K.?” Yousef asks me nervously in the physician work room at our hospital in Florida. “I’ve spent the last two weeks looking up the different countries where I might be able to work — Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.”
Yousef goes on to list the various visa and medical licensing procedures in each country and has clearly done his research. As he speaks, I hear none of the joy one might have in exploring exotic vacation sites, or of the sense of limitless possibility that some feel when they’ve quit a job to search for something more inspiring. A Syrian immigrant to the United States six years ago, Yousef is instead driven by fear and anxiety that a knock on the door could mean the end of his American dream.
Yousef left Syria to pursue his medical career in the U.S. His sister, a professional as well, later joined him in Florida. The protests against the Assad regime had started, but the bloody crackdown had yet to start. “I was never political but I had many friends who were joining the street protests when I was preparing to leave to go to the U.S.,” he says. “I never imagined that the situation would deteriorate like it did.” Living far from home while undergoing the rigors of an internal medicine residency, Yousef finally finished his training in June 2015. Nearly all foreign physicians are required to work for three years in an underserved area of the U.S., often in towns in the heart of rural America, and he came to northern Florida to start his career.
Now, with a new administration in the White House, it is unclear whether Yousef can leave the U.S. to visit his family — despite his work visa, which was granted because he provides essential skills to a country that needs them. He’s worried that the travel ban is just the first step in what will be a progressive battle against people from predominantly Muslim countries.
Another Syrian colleague of ours has a brother who spent time in a Syrian jail for speaking out against the dictatorship. Once free, the brother slipped into Turkey and ended up in Germany. Tariq intended to visit his brother, whom he hadn’t seen in years, in Germany this spring, but those plans are now on hold indefinitely, despite the fact that Tariq, as a permanent resident, has a green card.