Iran students face expulsion from Norway over sanctions

Hamideh Kaffash Hamideh Kaffash and her fellow Iranian science students are awaiting the outcome of an appeal

Academics from Norway's top technical university have expressed concern after almost a dozen post-graduate science students from Iran had their residence permits cancelled because of international sanctions.

"When I first heard about this, I just couldn't believe it," says 27-year-old Hamideh Kaffash who was about to start a PhD in material engineering at the prestigious Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

She's one of 10 Iranian post-graduates who have received letters from the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration in recent months informing them that they must leave the country.

The letters say that Norway's Police and Security Service has ruled that their studies could result in the transfer of sensitive technology which could help Iran develop its nuclear industry.

The security services say this would put Norway in breach of international sanctions in place against Iran over its disputed nuclear programme.

But Hamideh says her speciality has nothing to do with the nuclear industry.

"I'm working on a project to reducing CO2 emission in ferromanganese production," she says. "It's a project which will benefit the environment and is now being applied in Iran."

'Baseless and wrong'

The immigration ruling affects three post-graduate students at NTNU, including Hamideh, and the university has lodged an appeal on their behalf.

The seven other post-grads who've been affected, and who are studying at other universities, have also challenged the decision.

Hamideh and her friends have also been campaigning to get the decision reversed.

A demonstration at Norway's University of Science and Technology in support of the Iranian students, June 2014 University students and lecturers have rallied in support of the affected students

They've set up a Facebook page, organised an online petition and held protests on university campuses across the country, attended by both students and lecturers.

"We think the Department of Immigration decision is baseless and wrong," says Jostein Mardalen, head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at NTNU.

"The topic of my students' project is to reduce CO2 emissions and other pollutants," he told BBC Persian.

"This is environmentally-friendly work and has nothing to do with WMD or atomic energy or anything like that."

The Norwegian police security service has declined to comment on the 10 post-graduate cases, but in a statement issued early June, the service confirmed dozens of Iranian students hoping to go to Norway to study this academic year had also been refused visas based on its advice.

Hamideh Kaffash in a laboratory Hamideh says her speciality has nothing to do with the nuclear industry

"Since 2012, we have noted an increase in the number of Iranian applicants for advanced technological university programmes in Norway," the statement read.

"In 2013, basing ourselves on UN resolutions, we recommended that applications from approximately 60 students and researchers be rejected."

For academics at some of Norway's leading universities this is not good news.

"Norway needs input from well qualified people," says Professor Torgeir Moan, who heads NTNU's Centre for Ships and Ocean Structures, and has had many Iranian post-grad students in the past.

"Most of the foreign students that come here stay and work in Norway after their education and contribute to Norwegian development. So for us the recent Iranian cases were a surprise."


There are around 200 Iranians studying at NTNU and hundreds more at other institutions across the country. Even for those not so far affected by the Immigration Department's new rulings, it's a worrying time. Many fear their long-term job prospects are being damaged.

"The entire atmosphere is so negative towards Iranian students now," says one a PhD student at NTNU, who asked not to be named.

A demonstration at Norway's University of Science and Technology in support of the Iranian students, June 2014 Some academics argue Norway will lose foreign talent by rejecting Iranian science students

"Norwegian companies and employers are not interested in hiring us, even people who've been living here for a long time. Our job applications are getting rejected because the employers know that Iranians might not get work permits."

Inside universities there are also fears that there will be fewer opportunities for Iranian post-graduates, however talented, because of the complications surrounding their work and resident permits.

Professor Moan acknowledges that it is becoming a problem.

"I must confess that yes, it has impacted on us," he told the BBC. "It is very unfortunate because we would really like to hire [Iranian students] but of course we are in a different situation with obligations to make."

While Hamideh and her fellow students await the outcome of their appeal the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research has announced that it has called a meeting this autumn to seek clarity on the issue. They have invited representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the Security Service and the Immigration Department.

Iranian students and their Norwegian lecturers will be watching the outcome very carefully.

More on This Story

More Middle East stories


Features & Analysis

  • Martin Gardner as a young manThink hard

    Was this man the world's greatest puzzle master?

  • Carved pumpkinTrick or treat

    What did a riot at a pumpkin festival show about race in US?

  • A woman puts on a surgical mask during hospital Ebola training in Alabama.'Dark continent'

    Is prejudice fuelling Ebola outbreak hysteria in the US?

  • Oscar de la Renta and Oprah WinfreyIn pictures

    The life and work of Oscar de la Renta

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • FutureThe future is now

    Get the latest updates and biggest ideas from BBC Future’s World-Changing Ideas Summit


  • Smart glassesClick Watch

    Smart spectacles go into battle – the prototypes looking to take on Google Glass

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.