Visa denials impact Scattergood Friends School

Scattergood students Gary Lee, Dejere Pollock, and Latif Behroz, June 2019. Gary and Latif are international students. Dereje is from Iowa (born in Ethiopia). © Alicia Taylor.


Scattergood Friends School has a long history of welcoming international visitors, most notably serving as a hostel for refugees from Europe during World War II. But recently, the small Quaker boarding school and farm in West Branch, Iowa, has encountered increasing difficulty in securing visas for students from poorer countries.

From 2013 to 2016, all 18 international students who wished to attend Scattergood were able to secure a visa to study in the United States. But since the beginning of the Trump administration, several visa applications from potential students have been turned down.

“We haven’t had any trouble with East Asian or European students,” said Sam Taylor, the school’s academic dean. “But we’ve had eight students from Afghanistan, Bolivia, and Ethiopia who have encountered denials or serious delays.”

Ethiopian Lemlem Malore, the sister of another Scattergood student, was offered a full scholarship to the school. But despite two years of work and her one dozen visits to the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia, she was never granted a student visa to come to Scattergood. The consul general of the embassy said that Malore failed to meet the burden of proof that she intended to return to Ethiopia.

Hickory Grove Meeting House on Scattergood’s campus. © Ben Bowman.

“In talking with other Friends schools, this appears to be a wider trend at the level of policy,” commented Taylor. “It’s not just happening to our applicants. It’s a problem that perhaps warrants combined lobbying efforts from Quaker schools.”

Statistics published by the U.S. state department reflect these experiences. In fiscal year 2015, around 678,000 student visas were issued. By fiscal year 2018, the number dropped by 40 percent, down to less than 390,000.

Scattergood is looking at other means to fill the slots held for international students. Scholarships are being offered for Quaker students, and a middle school program will be added. But the hope is that future visa decisions will allow the school to maintain its diversity.

“One of my favorite parts of the school is how multicultural it is,” said Taylor. “When you have students from four or five different countries together with domestic students in a relatively small student body, it’s incredibly rich for everyone.”

FJ News Editor

Erik Hanson and Windy Cooler are the news editors for Friends Journal. They contributed to the reporting of this story. Do you know about any Quaker news stories we should be covering? Send us tips at

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