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March 16, 2017

Those affected by ban urged not to leave U.S.

The Office of International Services (OIS) is recommending that University community members from countries affected by the Trump administration’s immigrant ban not leave the country for now.

OIS assistant director Debra Prvanovic reported on the recommendation at the March 3 meeting of the University Senate benefits and welfare committee.

The original Jan. 27 executive order banned people from seven predominantly Muslim countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen), as well as refugees worldwide, from entering the U.S. Since then, her office has stepped up its communications efforts to Pitt students, staff and faculty contemplating international journeys.

Prvanovic spoke after the order had been stayed by an appeals court but before the new executive order on March 6 replaced the previous rules. The new order exempts current visa holders from being subject to the immigration ban and takes Iraq off the list of countries whose residents cannot enter the U.S. for the next three months.

“We have been recommending that they not travel at this point,” she said of Pitt community members from the countries named in the executive order. “Don’t leave the U.S. because we’re afraid they won’t [be allowed] back in.”

Otherwise, her office is not recommending any curtailment of international travel, she added.

However, she reported, Pitt employees have been detained to show immigration papers – during the Obama administration. Last summer, two Pitt faculty members from Eastern Europe found themselves in customs jail in Texas when they drove within 100 miles of the Mexican border.

“They were driving in a Pennsylvania-licensed car,” Prvanovic said, when they were stopped by an officer from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Upon hearing their accents, the ICE officer said: “‘Oh, you’re not from Pennsylvania,’” Prvanovic related. He then asked for their immigration documentation, which they did not have with them. A Pitt official was able to email their immigration documents to the ICE office in Texas and ICE sent them on their way with the suggestion that they carry these documents in their car.

“They were well treated,” Prvanovic said. “The jail door was open and they were fed.”

OIS now tells Pitt community members born in other countries to carry such documentation in their cars.

Among Pitt faculty and staff applying for visas to travel, “We have seen an increase in administrative screening,” she said, with delays of up to 90 days. Her office recommends Pitt employees from engineering, biochemistry and other technical fields who are traveling carry along their CVs and, if conducting research, the CV of their project’s principal investigator (PI). She also recommends that the PI provide a letter explaining that their research “is benign, in laymen’s terms,” she said.

“If somebody is in my office and they’re discussing travel and they seem nervous, the first thing I ask them is, ‘Is your travel necessary?’” Prvanovic added.


In other business, the committee learned that Pitt has launched a new travel service to replace PRISM iExpense and has employed a single travel agency to handle domestic and international travel arrangements.

“Hopefully we’re going to provide one place for people to go for all their travel needs,” said Emily M. Duchane, travel program manager for Strategic Sourcing and PantherExpress System Solutions in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer.

Concur, the new travel program, uses Anthony Travel as Pitt’s preferred travel agency.

“They understand what higher education travel is about,” Duchane said. “They understand working with grants and they understand working with student groups.”

Two Anthony agents now have an office in the William Pitt Union, and an agency representative will be available 24 hours a day to help handle issues that may arise during a trip.

Anthony offers multiple discounts on a variety of rental properties, she added. Pitt is in the process of negotiating discounts with car rental agencies and other travel-related businesses to add to these benefits.

Concur uses an online booking tool that puts all possible airline reservations into one screen, including a full complement of Southwest flights, Duchane reported, for easier selection during travel planning.

Also going live in early March was a new travel card for Pitt employees — a Citizens Bank Mastercard. Traveling Pitt employees now can request a cash account to be associated with the card, allowing cash withdrawals during a trip and eliminating the need for most cash advances that have possibly, in the past, triggered a customs inspection upon arrival in a foreign country.

This Pitt-billed and Pitt-paid card will not affect the user’s credit rating, Duchane noted. There also is an app available that tracks receipts for later accounting.

Students in study abroad programs, who often pay ahead or whose fees are paid by their departments, will not be using Citizens cards, she said.

3.16.17 This story was updated at 2 pm.

—Marty Levine

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