14 July, 2017
Senior US officials have told the US-based, The Politico, that USA officials have reversed course at the urging of President Trump and chose to allow into the United States a group of Afghan girls hoping to participate in an global robotics competition.
The struggles faced by the team of six - from building their robot to overcoming gender-role barriers, and a literal 500-mile journey they had to take to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for their visa application, made national headlines in the U.S. after the initial refusal became news.
Officials say the administration could not be prouder of these young female scientists. As Forbes reported, even though Afghanistan is not one of the countries mentioned in Trump's partially reinstated travel ban, the rate of visas approved from the country in recent months have been low.
The team will attend the FIRST Global Challenge, an annual robotics competition in Washington D.C. The competition brings together worldwide students and sheds light on global challenges as well as the importance of STEM education.
The Department of Homeland Security eventually agreed to allow the girls in on a system called "parole", which will allow them to remain in the US for ten days, but is not technically a visa.
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"I truly believe our greatest power is the power to convene nations, to bring people together in the pursuit of a common goal and prove that our similarities greatly outweigh our differences", said First Global President Joe Sestak, a former U.S. Navy admiral and Democratic congressman.
Politico, which broke the story Wednesday evening, reported that President Donald Trump had personally intervened and asked officials at the National Security Council to take action.
The U.S. State Department had declined to comment on why the Afghan team's visa applications were denied, saying that "all visa applications are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis in accordance with U.S. law".
Non-profit First Global created the contest as a way to spark interest in science and tech for high schoolers across the globe.
Their coach, Roya Mahboob, said that the team was "crying all the day" when they heard the news that they had been rejected a second time for their seven-day travel visas. The Washington Post said it was not clear why the team was denied initially.