Iranian physicist Farhad Ardalan has spent enough time in the United States to regard it as his second home. But a case of apparent mistaken identity may prevent him from ever visiting his adopted country again.
Last fall, Ardalan was named a fellow of the American Physical Society, in part because of his efforts to connect Iran to the global scientific community and strengthen bonds between Iran and the United States. The new class of fellows will be honored at the society's meeting next month in Portland, Oregon. But U.S. consular officials have derailed Ardalan's application for a visa after telling him that U.S. government records show he was arrested in the United States in 1983 for an unspecified offense. They also say that he may have been involved in deportation proceedings 20 years earlier.
Ardalan denies both charges, and his U.S. colleagues say that the State Department is making a big mistake. "He is precisely the kind of person who should be welcomed to the U.S.," says Stanford University physicist Herman Winick about Ardalan, a string theorist at the Institute for the Study of Fundamental Sciences in Tehran.
And just in case, you are wondering about his past in the US:
Ardalan first came to the United States in 1958 and attended Columbia University, where he received his bachelor's and master's degrees. After earning his Ph.D. in 1970, he returned to Iran to teach at Sharif University, where he helped create the first Iranian doctoral program in physics.But it seems that there is a doppelgänger - but this is not a valid excuse:
Ardalan spent sabbatical years at Yale and Stony Brook universities in 1974 and 1977 and made a short visit to the United States in 1986. He claims that, like most Iranians, he wasn't allowed to leave the country for several years after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. "I simply could not have been in the U.S. in 1983," he says about the government's charge, which he first learned about when he appeared for his visa interview on 29 January at the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland. (Iranians must go abroad for a U.S. visa.)When Ardalan disputed the charge, he says, the official told him that his name and fingerprints matched the record of the arrest and that he would have to come back for another appointment to give officials time to look into the case. "I said, ‘Forget it.’ And I left," says Ardalan.
Ardalan guesses that the problem is a doppelgänger. "There was a person with the same name who was a leader of the Kurdish guerrilla movement; as a result, for years I was routinely stopped and interrogated at the Tehran airport," Ardalan says. It took a meeting with the head of airport security to clear his name. Ardalan says he deserves an apology for how he has been treated, and he refuses to go back to the embassy or reapply for a visa. State Department officials did not return calls for comment. The department has been criticized for botching visa applications of prominent scientists, including Goverdhan Mehta, an Indian chemist whose visa application was denied in 2006 (Science, 17 February 2006, p. 933).Read the full story here (you may need subscription to access the article). This story appeared two weeks ago. I don't know if this issue has been resolved or not by now. If anyone knows about the latest status, let me know. The APS meeting runs from March 15 to 19.