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Neuroscience Society Supports Scientists Refuse US Visas: Shots



At McCormick Place in Chicago, neurologists from all over the world presented their work to colleagues. But some researchers were denied entry because of the Trump administration's travel ban.

Rob Pierce / Alan Institute


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Rob Piercy / Allen Institute

At McCormick Place in Chicago, neurologists from around the world have presented their work to colleagues. But some researchers were denied entry because of the Trump administration's travel ban.

Rob Piercy / Allen Institute

When Sepiedeh Keshavarzi received her medical degree in Tehran, she often read research reports from prominent scientists in the United States

"It was my dream at a time when I was much younger to do research in the States," she says.

Not anymore.

The United States rejected Keshavarzi's request for a visa to attend this year's meeting of the Neuroscience Society, which this week attracted more than 25,000 brain scientists from across the globe in Chicago. She was also denied a visa for last year's meeting in San Diego.

The reason: Keshavarzi holds an Iranian passport even though he has not lived in that country since 2007. Iran is one of seven countries included in President Trump's travel ban, enforced by executive order.

"I knew there was a travel ban," says Kesavarzi, "but I thought there might be an exception because I was permanently resident in Australia."

She was also specifically invited to the meeting to give a presentation on special brain cells that help us track our own movement.

So Keshavartsi, who is currently doing research at University College London, sent a pre-recorded PowerPoint presentation to a meeting instead.

But after two years of frustration, she says, her career goals have changed.

"I will look for work in a few months and I no longer think about the US, which is a real shame," she says. "Now I will only look in Europe."

Visa problems have become common enough that the Neuroscience Society has created program called Science Knows No Borders for this year's meeting, which aims to help scientists like the Keshavarians present their research even though they cannot attend. sciences student at the University of Tubingen in Germany, who also has an Iranian

Ramesanpur was scheduled to present a poster at a meeting showing his research.

Poster sessions are held in an exhibit hall with the size of several football fields.

But at some point in time, Ramespanpur is still stuck in Europe. "My poster is happier than I am because he doesn't need a visa," he said in a Twitter post.

So instead of Ramesenpur, people watching his poster come across Raimundo Baes, a former colleague who was born in Mexico and is currently a researcher at Massachusetts Hospital in Boston.

"He wanted to come here to present his work and he failed because his visa was refused," says Baez.

The Neuroscience Society says fewer than a dozen scientists from Iran, Mexico and India participated in the Science Knows No Borders program this year. But an unofficial study of more than a dozen posters found that almost everyone knew at least one brain scientist who was kept away from delayed or denied visas.

And this does not include scholars who have never traveled at all plans because they hold passports from a forbidden country.

"People ask me what is the number of people affected there, Keshavartsi says," and I continue to say that you will not know because they do not apply. "

However, some scholars persist.

Lailey Mortazavi missed last year's neuroscience meeting in San Diego because of her Iranian passport. At the time, she was studying at the University of British Columbia, just a few miles from the US border.

"I was presented with tons of documents and I was just told that because of the travel ban, I could not even apply for a visa," she says.

So when Mortazavi started hunting, a few months before she applied for a Canadian passport.

"I was lucky to have received my Canadian passport just days before the Stanford interview," she says.

A few weeks ago, Mortazavi began his postgraduate research fellowship at a laboratory in Stanford.

She loves the scientific community there, she says, but she has mixed feelings about being in the U.S.

"It's kind of sad to be in a country that has these policies in place," she says. "I really hope they change soon."


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