Azadeh Fattahi, age 27, grew up near Teheran and lived in the capital of Iran until she finished her Bachelor’s degree in physics almost six years ago. She moved to Canada to join the graduate program at the University of Victoria, where she earned a Master’s degree in 2013 and will complete her PhD in late spring. Her research is on galaxy evolution. As a computational astrophysicist she runs simulations to try and understand the dark matter content of dwarf galaxies.
Looking at the Canadian map, I see that you actually live very close to the US border.
I do. Victoria is an island. There’s not a lot of water between here and Seattle. From the southern tip of the island you can see mountains that are in the US.
During your time in Canada, did you ever take a trip to the US?
Well, I’m Iranian. I need a visa every single time I want to go to the US. So I’ve only been there a few times for work, like for conferences, to give a talk, or to visit one of my collaborators. I’ve only tacked on a few days once in a while because getting the visa is such a hassle. The process of getting a visa is fairly straightforward, but it requires time and effort - and you have to pay a fee every time.
You’ve already applied for jobs. How has the US immigration ban affected your job search?
In astrophysics, the job application process starts in the fall. I’ve already heard back from many prospective employers. I have a job offer from the University of Michigan and I’m shortlisted for two other positions that I would like to think about, if I get an offer. One is in UC Davis, one is at MIT. That’s the status of my applications in the US. I have also been shortlisted for interviews in Europe. Many of my colleagues are in Europe, so from the outset Europe was one of the main places I was considering. But the institutes that got back to me… Well, nobody is disappointed by a job offer from MIT (laughs). So even though my job search was focused on Europe, I am very sad that I cannot even think about accepting positions in the US. I’ve had to forego a lot of opportunities.
When will you get a response about your other applications?
They wanted to get back to me soon and I’m expected to respond to all offers by mid-February. I guess if I hear from them, I have to decide within two weeks. But I don't think I'm going to accept any job offers from the US. I cannot take the risk, since they’re not going to issue me a visa.
Are you worried that the ban might not be over in 90 days?
There are a few things to consider. 90 days is still a long time, and the visa process itself also takes some time. That’s one thing. The other thing is, the conditions they’ve put in the executive order are unrealistic. They’re asking our governments to hand over any and all information about their citizens to America so they can issue the visa. Iran and the US have never had a particularly good relationship, so I’m sure this is not going to happen. Iran is not going to give information about their citizens to the US. If they insist on what is stipulated in the executive order, I don’t think the ban is going to be over anytime soon.
But even if you had the chance, would you still like to work in the US?
That’s the other thing. You feel unwelcome. Probably not from the American people, but from the system. I don’t want to go there if I’m not respected, if my work is not respected, why should I go there? Maybe I could get a visa, but with what I’ve seen so far, I would not go.
Do you plan any travelling to the US soon?
Actually, I’ve been invited to speak at two universities in the States. One talk is in almost two weeks, and one is in a month and a half. I even have a valid visa for the first but I’m quite sure that because of the ban they’re not going to let me in.
…,which is terrible, because speaking invitations are a crucial element on the CV of a young scientist.
Exactly. I’m near the end of my PhD. This is when you’ve done your research and people start to recognize your name and invite you to talks. That counts. If you see people, if you present your work it matters in the long term for your career - if you want to stay in academia. So it’s a big loss. I’m missing all these opportunities.
It’s an emotionally intense time for you. Finishing your PhD is already pretty stressful, but then having to deal with the repercussions of immigration ban…