About the author: US President Donald Trump’s travel ban is aimed to suspend the issuance of immigrant and non-immigrant visas of over 135 million people, from seven countries. This article is written by one of those 135 million people. A talented junior researcher from Germany, who was awarded by the Immunosensation travel grant in order to present her work in the Conference of American Society of Human Genetics, in San Diego, California, United States of America. Due to the “US Visa-stop”, the Iranian PhD-candidate, Atie could not attend the conference but she has more to tell us about her journey with an Iranian passport.
A personal opinion.
It was a great pleasure to get the opportunity and the academic financial support to present my work at one of the high-profile conferences in the field of molecular and human genetics. But I could not attend the conference just because I was born in Iran! I got banned entering United States due to the Trump’s travel ban, which was actually published by the Supreme Court of USA one week before my visa interview. This experience made me relive all the difficulties I encountered in my life, due to the nationality discriminations.
It’s a pain to remember how much time I invested on my scientific plans and lots of them failed due to political barriers and sanctions I was faced with. I was a master student when I started doing research in the field of Human Genetics in Iran. We always had difficulties to buy our research materials, accessing scientific publications, or even getting a proper Internet connection.
There were political and ideological controls inside the country and comprehensive sanctions from the EU and the US against our country. It has been always a dream for me, and my peers to participate at international scientific events in abroad. Not only because we could not afford the costs but also the visa process is so demanding and irregular for Iranians that many scientists and students get rejected after investing so much time and money. National authorities don’t like us to get out and the foreign countries don’t like us to get in.
When I finished my master thesis and published my first research project in Iran, I attended an international conference in Austria to present my work. A Professor from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin got interested and invited me for a job interview at his lab. After a few days I received his official invitation letter for a PhD position in his research group. I was so happy and I could hardly wait to start working there, but first I had to get back to Iran to apply for a visa and working permission in Germany.
The visa process was supposed to take “8 weeks”. In that time, I left my jobs in Iran, sold out my properties, packed my luggage and ceased my rental contract. After “28 weeks” of stressfully waiting, I got a response from the German embassy regarding my visa. In the meanwhile, the professor wrote me that he has a tight agenda for the project and could not wait that long. He withdrew the job offer and my visa application got rejected consequently.
I was left lonely and empty handed behind the borders. After that, I got three more rejections on different visa applications for scientific collaborations and attending conferences in other EU countries, as a consequence of the first rejection by German embassy. After 9 months of tremendous effort I could obtain a one-week Schengen visa to get to Germany and find a solution at the lab, where I got the PhD offer before.
The international welcome center at Charité medical university helped me to get my residence permit with the help of a private lawyer. It was also a very complicated and expensive process, which took five more months. During this time, I was only tolerated in Berlin and if I was invited for any scientific event outside the state of Berlin, I needed an extra permission to travel. After so much work and international contributions, I was still sentenced only by my place of birth.
Finally, I got my residence permit “15 months” after my first application. The head of the international welcome center at Charité told me that she had helped with a lot of complicated cases so far, but my case was a remarkable record in her archive. She recommended me to write my story to raise public awareness but I ignored at that time because I just felt safe and so frustrated that I did not want to talk about it anymore. More than one year passed without any progress in my scientific work and I burned out all the power and inspiration I could put on my research.
However, when I finally got a valid working contract in Germany and officially registered to the promotion program in University of Bonn, I felt fully accepted and safe in the real international scientific world. I thought that my nationality might not matter that much anymore. Within one year, I could rebuild a normal life after a long time of living job- and homeless. I got my regular salary and social insurances again. I started a civil partnership and a family like a usual EU citizen. So, at the date for visa interview at the US consulate I took all my papers together with an invitation letter from the conference, my academic travel grants and letters of full support from the graduate school and ImmunoSensation cluster of excellence. Again like two years before; nothing mattered but my nationality! They denied processing my visa application for attending the conference. How would you feel if this happens to you? How would you think if it affects your colleague?
The free flow of knowledge, networking and collaborations bring prosperity to science. A majority of 182 outstanding scientific and educational institutions in US wrote an objection letter declaring that they have gained all the power and success from the global flow of scholars and experts during the past decades but nationality discriminations and travel bans highly affects their scientific strength and leadership in the world. According to the 26th article of the universal declaration of human rights, “Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit […] It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace”. All what happened to me and happens currently to numerous of people like me is clearly against this universal declaration.
I am happy that I finally survived all the difficulties and get a great support from the German academia, my working group, and my German partner. Although, it is only inside the border of EU! Yet the dark fact is that after the “Muslim-ban”, US renewed intensive sanctions against Iran on 5th of November 2018 and many other developed countries in the world are following this politics. German embassy in Iran has suspended academic visa applications for two years, which kills any hope for Iranians to study and research in Germany. I believe that science is thinking without barriers but what if your scientific act is twisted with legal barriers?