Society For Neuroscience Assists Scientists Denied U.S. Visas : Shots - Health News Scientists from nations including Iran, Mexico, and India were refused visas to attend this year's Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago. Some researchers got stand-ins to present their work.
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U.S. Travel Ban Disrupts The World's Largest Brain Science Meeting

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U.S. Travel Ban Disrupts The World's Largest Brain Science Meeting

U.S. Travel Ban Disrupts The World's Largest Brain Science Meeting

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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In Chicago this week, a meeting attracted more than 25,000 brain scientists. The number would have been higher if President Trump's travel ban didn't keep out some international scientists. NPR's Jon Hamilton reports on how Visa problems affect researchers whose work spans international borders.

JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: The Society for Neuroscience meeting is the largest event of its kind in the world, and researchers come from just about everywhere.

USI CHEH: My name is Usi Cheh (ph), and I'm from Taiwan.

KIARA FISK: Kiara Fisk (ph), the University of Bordeaux.

SIAN KOH: Sian Koh (ph), and I'm from Korea.

HAMILTON: Most scientists present their work in an exhibition hall the size of several football fields. At a designated time and place, they unfurl their posters and field questions. Luca Fazio is a doctoral student in Germany, though he grew up in Italy.

LUCA FAZIO: I'm focusing on the role of potassium channels in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis.

HAMILTON: But a few posters at this year's neuroscience meeting arrived without their authors. I stopped by a poster from Hamid Ramezanpour, a Ph.D. student in Germany. He's not there. Instead, a researcher from Boston named Raymundo Baez is explaining Ramezanpour's absence.

RAYMUNDO BAEZ: He wants to come here to, you know, present his work, and he wasn't able because his visa was denied.

HAMILTON: The reason? Ramezanpour holds a passport from Iran, 1 of 7 countries included in the president's current travel ban. Sepiedeh Keshavarzi was also denied a visa for this year's neuroscience meeting. I reached her in London.

SEPIEDEH KESHAVARZI: I have Iranian passport even though I have left the country 2007.

HAMILTON: Keshavarzi got her Ph.D. in Australia before moving to University College London.

KESHAVARZI: It was my dream at some point when I was much younger to do research in the States.

HAMILTON: She was invited to this year's neuroscience meeting to give a presentation on brain cells that help us keep track of our own motion, but her visa was denied for the second year in a row. So Keshavarzi sent a pre-recorded PowerPoint to the meeting. She says her experiences have altered her goals.

KESHAVARZI: I will be looking for jobs in a few months. And I'm not considering the U.S. anymore, which is a real shame. I will be only looking in Europe now.

HAMILTON: The Society for Neuroscience has created a program to help people like Keshavarzi present their work at the meeting. It's called Science Knows No Borders. And this year, it helped researchers who'd hoped to travel from Iran, Mexico and India. But Keshavarzi says the problem goes well beyond those countries.

KESHAVARZI: People ask me, what is the number of those out there affected? And I keep saying, you wouldn't know because they don't apply.

HAMILTON: Some scientists persevere, though. Leili Mortazavi missed last year's neuroscience meeting in San Diego because of her Iranian passport. At the time, she was studying at the University of British Columbia.

LEILI MORTAZAVI: And I showed up with tons of documents. And I was just told that because of the presidential travel ban, I'm ineligible to even apply for a visa.

HAMILTON: So when Mortazavi began job hunting, she applied for a Canadian passport.

MORTAZAVI: I was lucky that I got my pass - Canadian passport just a few days before the interview for Stanford.

HAMILTON: She started her job as a graduate research assistant at Stanford a few weeks ago. Mortazavi says she loves the scientific community there but has mixed feelings about being in the U.S.

MORTAZAVI: Kind of sad to be in a country that is, like, has these policies in effect. I really hope that they change soon.

HAMILTON: Jon Hamilton, NPR News, Chicago.

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