Note: This story was updated at 1:30 a.m. Feb. 12.
A “handful of scientists” working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are citizens of the seven countries that were barred from entering the United States for up to 90 days under an executive order signed by President Donald Trump last month, but so far, the travel ban hasn’t had an effect at the lab, officials said Friday.
ORNL is a U.S. Department of Energy laboratory. It’s DOE’s largest science and energy laboratory, and it has foreign nationals working there as well as visiting scientists.
The seven countries included in the president’s travel ban, which was issued January 27, were Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
“Only a handful of scientists working at ORNL are citizens of those seven countries,” the lab said in response to questions. “We’re not aware of any effects of the order here to date.”
The lab defined a “handful of scientists” as five or fewer during the period from fiscal year 2016 to date. (Visitor permissions are temporary. As examples, ORNL could sometimes have three visiting scientists, then have one permission expire, leaving two, then a couple more scientists could come to do experiments and the lab would have four, etc.)
A federal district judge, James L. Robart, blocked key parts of the travel ban last Friday, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco upheld that ruling on Thursday, although the court battle is not over. But in the meantime, people from the seven countries who have valid visas can travel to the United States.
Most foreign nationals working at the lab and visiting scientists doing research there come from other countries. Among those at the top of the list are China, India, South Korea, and Germany and other European countries, according to information provided by ORNL.
The lab said it hosted 3,208 visitors from other countries in fiscal year 2016.
“Most who came to our user facilities worked in neutron scattering, materials science, or condensed matter physics, but many foreign collaborators and students worked in other fields such as high-performance computing, biofuels, chemistry, and advanced manufacturing,” ORNL said. “The three most common countries of origin for foreign visitors in fiscal 2016 were China (689 visitors), India (323), and Germany (233).”
ORNL said 532 of its 4,789 employees are foreign nationals.
“The large majority are researchers of some sort; many are post-doctoral students,” the lab said. “They are from about 65 different countries, with China, India, South Korea, and Europe regularly at the top of the list.”
ORNL said it cooperates with other federal agencies to ensure adequate review of foreign visitors and staff, although it didn’t elaborate on the procedures.
At the Y-12 National Security Complex, the National Nuclear Security Administration Production Office said the executive order has had no impact on NNSA laboratory or facilities operations. Y-12 is an NNSA site, and among other things, it is involved in international nuclear nonproliferation missions.
Click here to read an Associated Press story and learn more about the Court of Appeals decision, the travel ban, and the executive order, which also bars the entry of any refugee who is awaiting resettlement in the U.S. for 120 days and also prohibits all Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. until further notice.
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