Three Iranian PhD students who were due to be thrown out of Norway on Tuesday after their residence permits were rejected were granted one week’s reprieve, while state immigration agency UDI handled a complaint against the case. Norway’s top technical university NTNU appealed the students’ rejection, which police intelligence unit PST (Politets sikkerhetstjeneste) justified on the grounds the students’ studies could be misused by Iranian authorities to create weapons of mass destruction.
The students were rejected based on immigration regulations banning the transfer of sensitive technology to Iran. “These are the highest levels of technical studies, and in our opinion these can be misused to produce weapons of mass production,” PST’s Arne Christian Haugstøyl told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He said there had been a considerable increase in the number of Iranian students to applying to study in areas Norwegian authorities considered problematic.
Both NTNU in Trondheim and the students denied the studies could lead to the development of nuclear weapons. “The projects have an environmental profile, and are far away from technology which can be used for weapons of mass destruction,” said the head of the institute for materials technology, Jostein Mårdalen.
“I’m studying environmentally-friendly technology and cannot understand what is sensitive about it,” said student Hamideh Kaffash. “What I’m working on is known by people in Iran. I’m afraid my time here in Norway has been wasted. Even though I miss my homeland and my family, I want to finish the studies here in Norway. I cannot understand why I must leave Norway. I sold everything in my homeland to come here.”
Kaffash was studying the reduction of CO2 emissions within ferromanganese production. She turned down a PhD position in Iran for the spot in Trondheim.
The case attracted international interest, with media including the BBC coming to Norway to interview the students. “The case has received considerable attention,” said Kaffash. “It’s probably something to do with my nationality.”
Damaging for students and NTNU
The university was also frustrated over the length of time it took authorities to process the residence permits, saying it impacted on both the students and the school. “This is a personal tragedy for the students,” Mårdalen said. “They are eight to nine months into the study, and then they’re stopped. We lose projects that are underway, and lose both time and money.”
“They have been in Norway for a long time now, and when they suddenly get the message that they do not get residence permits, I think weakens the reputation of both Norway and our international reputation,” said NTNU Rector, Gunnar Bovim. “No one will come to Norway if they know that they suddenly can be thrown out of our country.”
The students were meant to be deported on Tuesday, but were granted a week’s stay while UDI handled NTNU’s appeal of their residence rejection. UDI could not say how long the complaint would take to handle, reported NRK.
The Socialist Left (Sosialistisk Venstreparti, SV) parliamentary representative Snorre Valen took up the case on Tuesday, vowing to raise the issue during question time. “It seems like this case has been handled strictly,” he said. “I understand UDI’s considerations, but I think the wait time has been far too long. I want to challenge either the Justice Minister or the Education Minister on this case.”
Kaffash said she understood her case was problematic, but just wanted the matter resolved. “I hope the decision will be reversed, so I can finish my studies,” she said.