All-girl Afghan robotics team gets approval to travel to US after all

14 Jul 2017

Members of the all-girl Afghan robotics team who are now able to travel to the First Global Challenge after their visas were granted. Image: First Global

After much public outcry, the US government has relented and given a team of Afghan girl robotic engineers the visas to enter a competition.

Earlier this month, a team of girls from Afghanistan were getting ready to go to the First Global Challenge robotics competition in the US and, in the process, making history for girls and women in the war-torn country.

However, it soon came to light that the six were denied a visa to enter the US, despite working tirelessly to do so.

When news began to spread of their visa denial, a number of groups openly criticised the US government, with similar events around the world offering to host the girls at their competitions.

So it has come as welcome news that the US Department of Homeland Security has approved their request and the girls will now get the chance to represent their country in the coming days.

According to The Washington Post, a spokesperson for the department confirmed the news, stating that they will be granted special dispensation to enter the US under “parole” of a temporary stay due to the “significant public benefit” of their visit.

There was also good news for the Gambian team that entered the competition and was also denied visas, as that decision has now been overturned as well.

The most notable person to offer their support on social media was US president Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who saw it as a good example of promoting women in STEM.

Organiser responds

First Global president Joe Sestak – who had previously expressed his disappointment in the girls’ visa denial – has commended the US government for overturning the ban.

“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,” he said.

“That is why I am most grateful to the US government and its state department for ensuring Afghanistan, as well as Gambia, would be able to join us for this international competition this year.”

The Afghan girls will now face off against 159 other national teams with their robot, which had to be quickly assembled in a matter of weeks, as some components were held by customs over fears that they would be used as materials for ISIS.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic