Rob Davidson, speaker, researcher, and events consultant
Whatever the point of America banning entry to visa holders whose country of origin is Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, or Yemen, surely it couldn’t have been to prevent genuine delegates from attending conferences. Yet, that’s exactly what happened.
You don’t have to look far to find examples. Take one: several scientists due to speak at Photonics West, the world’s largest optics and photonics conference, held in February in San Francisco, were denied entry to the US. Those speakers were travelling from Canada and the UK.
According to the conference organisers, those banned included Parsin Hajireza from the University of Alberta and PhD student Sahar Mirzaei from the University of Southampton in the UK.
Mirzaei is originally from Iran and had been due to present a talk on ways to detect and identify DNA. Hajireza was to give a talk on photoacoustic remote sensing microscopy.
Mirzaei said she had been due to fly out from London Heathrow airport on 28 January with British Airways. She was travelling on a business visa, but was stopped from boarding the plane after handing over her Iranian passport.
The benefits of international conferences to scientific progress and therefore to society as a whole are well established, so it’s more than an affront to our industry that bona fide delegates have been denied the opportunity to make their contribution to US-based conferences, simply because of where they were born. The fact that this may be a prime example of the Law of Unintended Consequences will come as little consolation to those affected.