Field service engineer Syed Irsyaad, 26, is due to head for the United States — where his firm is based — to undergo training in April, but thinks it is better that non-Muslim engineers go in his place now.
Mr Syed is among the Singaporean Muslims who have been watching the developments in the US closely, where President Donald Trump last Friday signed an executive order banning travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, Iraq and Syria, from entering the US for 90 days.
While the ban does not affect travellers from Singapore, some Singaporeans who live in the US or travel there frequently are seeking assurance and proof of the purpose of their travel from their firms so they would not get held up unnecessarily at immigration, noting the uncertainty surrounding the execution of the order.
Mr Syed said non-Muslim engineers could go in his place without such concerns, and he would forgo the trip “for peace of mind of the people at home”. “Everyone is in limbo for now (and) doesn’t have any idea what’s going on yet. It’s a good time to wait it out for a while,” he told TODAY.
Ms Zakiyah Ibrahim, 27, a Singaporean social-work Master’s student in New York City, said she had been surprised by how quickly the ban kicked in, but was heartened to see how the New York community has reacted.
Her university and student accommodation provider had sent “assuring” emails, voicing their disagreement with the ban and vowing to protect the needs of international students.
But Mr Trump’s unpredictability has also created anxiety. Ms Zakiyah, who studies at Columbia University, has not personally experienced any negative sentiment because of her religion. But she feels that the ban has stirred up negative feelings against Muslims. “And we can’t say this (travel ban) will not extend to Muslims generally,” she added.
Uncertainty hovers even for non-Muslim Singaporeans who hold a US green card — which grants permanent residency — and those with jobs there.
Ms Cheow Xinyi, 33, who will graduate from her Columbia Master’s programme this month, returned for the Chinese New Year holidays last month. She is due to return to New York today to start her part-time job as a community organiser with a non-governmental organisation.
She wrote to the NGO last week to request a letter confirming her job. “Theoretically, I don’t need it; it’s just to be safe … I really hope it wouldn’t come down to that.”
Singaporean Serene Chew, 56, a green-card holder who has lived in Hawaii for nearly four decades, said she was caught in the middle. She is “disheartened” by the travel ban and has “some fear” because she is not American. “With Trump, you never know what he’s going to do,” she said, while acknowledging that some restrictions may have been “a long time coming”, citing the troubles faced by Germany over the influx of refugees.
Responding to TODAY’s queries, Ms Camille Dawson, a spokesperson for the US Embassy in Singapore, said the US government was “committed to facilitating legitimate travel for international visitors while ensuring the security of US borders”.
“The suspension provided for in the Executive Order does not include Singapore, and the US Embassy in Singapore continues to welcome and encourage Singaporeans’ travel and study in the United States,” she said.
Meanwhile, Americans in Singapore who spoke to TODAY generally disagreed with the ban.
Mr Glenn van Zutphen, owner of media consultancy VanMedia Group, said the move is not keeping with the spirit of what the US has always stood for.
He said the Trump administration should slow down the pace at which changes are being introduced. “It’s clear he wants to show his constituency he can get things done, but the government needs to move a bit slower … to make sure things are done in proper sequence (and) with more forethought,” said Mr van Zutphen, who is in his 50s.
A retired journalist, who wanted to be known only as Ms Jo, 69, said she has “never been so scared”. “The US is a country of immigrants and supposedly a safe haven in the world. I know of (friends in the US) who are thinking of other places to live,” she said.