In January of this year, the interim deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program went into effect. The deal outlined a series of give-and-take details between Iran and the six nations, including the United States, involved in the Geneva talks. In exchange for meeting significant benchmarks in the reduction of its nuclear enrichment program, Iran will receive temporary relief from some sanctions. This includes access to more of Iran’s oil revenue and other humanitarian assistance.
One of the humanitarian efforts is help with foreign tuition assistance for Iranian students studying abroad. For several years, sanctions have made it all but impossible for Iranian banks to make direct wire transfers to banks in the west. For students admitted to universities abroad, they were forced to navigate an often dangerous web to get money out of the country to where they would be attending school. With Iranian money severely devalued, they would be forced to first find a way to make an exchange, often for U.S. dollars, and carry tens of thousands of dollars with them as they traveled. The interim deal has lifted that sanction temporarily, allowing for $400 million in frozen assets to be used for tuition assistance at approved universities.
Now, some Iranian students studying abroad are feeling the effects of another sanction.
The main purpose of the deal is to halt any progress towards Iran developing an enrichment program that would lead to weapons grade uranium. They are required to dismantle systems as well as roll back current enrichment levels. Long standing international sanctions also forbid the transfer of sensitive technology that could develop its nuclear industry.
It’s the transfer of technological knowledge that has nearly a dozen Iranian students facing expulsion from Norway.
In recent months, the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration has been sending letters to post-graduate Iranian students that their student permits have been cancelled because of international sanctions. The students are working towards their PhDs in fields such as science and mechanical engineering at four universities in Norway. The NDI has said that because of their studies, allowing them to continue to remain in Norway would be a violation of international sanctions against the sharing of sensitive technology. Several prospective students that had been accepted for advanced technology programs have also been denied visas.
The students now face deportation, as well as the loss of job training and prospects. The students, with support from their universities, are fighting the ruling, saying their studies have nothing to do with nuclear energy or related technology. Hamideh Kaffash, who is about to start a PhD in material engineering, told the BBC, “I’m working on a project to reduce CO2 emission in ferromanganese production,” she says.”It’s a project which will benefit the environment and is now being applied in Iran.”
The NDI made the ruling based on its understanding of UN sanctions on Iran, many of which have been in place since 2006 and updated as late as 2012. The list of items prohibited by the UN includes any “technological data” or other materials that could be used to enhance a nuclear program. For Norwegian officials, they interpreted this as knowledge learned through academic studies.
In 2013, the applications of 60 Iranian students and researchers were rejected by Norwegian officials.
The universities also feel the officials are misguided and lack a true understanding of what their programs are teaching. Furthermore, the students are facing other fallout, including losing out on jobs due to employer fears of Iranian students not being able to obtain work permits. Others are pointing out it could result in a brain drain for Norway as well.
“Norway needs input from well qualified people,” says Professor Torgeir Moan, who heads Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Centre for Ships and Ocean Structures where three students have had their permits cancelled. “Most of the foreign students that come here stay and work in Norway after their education and contribute to Norwegian development.”
The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research has called a meeting with the Foreign Ministry and immigration officials to get clarity on the issue. The hope is that a better understanding between the universities as well as government officials will prevent future drastic actions. In the meantime, the students are awaiting the outcome of their appeals.