Politics & Policy

Trump’s Executive Order Shuts Out America’s Friends and Foes Alike

(Photo: Yury Shirokov/Dreamstime)
By an accident of birth, Iranian-born Europeans like me are being barred from U.S. shores. That’s not right.

Last summer, I visited the US to promote my book Debunking Utopia — Exposing the Myth of Nordic Socialism. The book, which exposes many popular socialist myths and reinforces the idea that free markets and strong norms matter for societal progress, has become popular with pro-market Americans. Magazines, think tanks, and talk shows on the right often quote the book and some of my other writings. Yet the process of obtaining a visa was so lengthy that I nearly had to cancel my trip to the US altogether. During my previous visits, there had been no visa requirements, since I am a Swedish citizen. Legislation pushed through by congressional Republicans changed that for those who were born in Iran, as I was. Now, though there is some ambiguity in the wording of President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, it is being interpreted to mean that I will not be able to enter the country at all — at least not for the next 120 days.

In that, I am not alone, of course. The travel ban is in place to protect the U.S. from Islamic Jihadism. But the Iranian-born diaspora in Sweden is hardly a hotbed of that violent ideology. It encompasses a diverse array of  entrepreneurs, researchers, and politicians. Trump’s decision to shut America’s borders to these individuals based on their country of birth makes little sense.

First, there are the politicians. Ardalan Shekarabi, Sweden’s minister for public administration. Shekarabi, born in Iran, is a pragmatic center-left politician who for many years has been seen as a rising star in Swedish politics. He’s certainly no Islamist. Neither are the several other parliament members in Sweden with an Iranian origin. Rather, they have political ideas much in line with what one would find in the US. Ali Esbati for example, is a well-known politician on the hard-left, while Hanif Bali is one of the country’s most popular conservatives and an advocate of limited migration. The ideas held by these two individuals would be an interesting addition to the US debate. But for the next four months, they won’t be able to enter the country.

Then there are the large number of engineers, researchers, and entrepreneurs in Sweden who were born in Iran. A considerable number of knowledge-intensive businesses in the U.S. have partnerships with Swedish firms. A study by Atomico finds that on a per capita basis, Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, “is the second most prolific tech hub globally, with 6.3 billion-dollar companies per million people (compared to [Silicon] Valley with 6.9).” Many of  Swedish engineering, medicine, and IT firms have Iranian-born co-workers, and some were even founded by Swedish-Iranians.

Saeid Esmaeilzadeh became Sweden’s youngest associate professor at the age of 28. Together with his childhood friend Ashkan Pouya, Esmaeilzadeh founded the materials firm Diamorph. The pair have during recent years helped a number of inventors to take their ideas to the marketplace. The result is the Serendipity Group, which includes numerous firms in innovative fields such as advanced materials, medical devices, and biotechnology. Many of these firms operate in the U.S. One of them, which designs and manufactures customized implants for cartilage damage in joints, is even listed on the NASDAQ stock index. Yet Esmaeilzadeh and Pouya are now barred from visiting the U.S., because they happened to be born in the wrong country.

These are just a few examples from Sweden, which is a relatively small country. There are of course many similar examples to be found in other western countries. Together, they are proof that it is unwise to exclude people from your shores based solely on their country of birth. President Trump is not only shutting out many global talents and foreclosing the economic benefits they might bring to U.S. companies — he is also excluding friends of the U.S. Where’s the sense in that?

— Nima Sanandaji is the president of the European Centre for Entrepreneurship and Policy Reform.

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