Francois Héran, an anthropologist, sociologist, and demographer, was unable to obtain his visa in time to visit the United States for a conference at the University last Friday.
Héran suspects that the reason is his past visit to Tehran, Iran, for a demographic conference last year. According to University anthropology professor John Borneman, Héran was invited to speak at a conference co-sponsored by the University Program in Contemporary Europe Politics and Society and the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies European crisis group.
“Now, we’re having a problem, not simply Princeton, but a national problem, because of visas and the Trump administration trying to block people of different categories all having to do with Muslims,” said Borneman. “When scholars come from places in the world we don’t want to know about, the federal government tries to block them from sharing that information with us.”
Borneman is the director of the EPS program and the co-organizer of the conference. Although Héran could not attend the conference, he was able to Skype in to the event.
According to the visa application for citizens of France, people who apply for a visa through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, which has been required for the U.S.’s Visa Waiver Program since 2009, a 99 percent approval rate. However, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates has noted that some restrictions on the use of ESTA under a 2015 act of Congress that limited visa waivers will affect some French nationals. If any Visa Waiver Program nationals, including French nationals, have traveled to Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen since March 1, 2011, those individuals are ineligible to use ESTA according to the new restrictions — even if they have used the program and received ESTA approvals in the past.
Héran explained in an email statement that he was rejected by the ESTA system for this reason, having answered “yes” in the system to having visited Tehran for a conference on demographic efforts and medical issues. After calling U.S. Consulates, he was eventually led back to the very same ESTA system that blocked him in the first place.
“My intention is simply to explain that participating in a demographic conference in Iran is a normal activity for a demographer,” Héran wrote in an email. He explained that he intends to get a face-to-face interview with someone at the Embassy of the United States in Paris to straighten out these problems for future travel.
The embassy explicitly notes that the 2015 act regulating visa waivers prohibit travel to the United States. It requires that a traveler have a valid U.S. visa in their passport to be admitted, unlike through the ESTA program where the individual need only be approved through the electronic system.
Héran, a contemporary French social scientist, was recently elected to the College de France. He has previously served as Director of the National Institute for Demographic Studies and has studied such areas as work, education, electoral participation, and immigration.
“It changes the nature of discussion where there can’t be face-to-face discussion,” added Borneman. “We must be very alert [of] attempts of the administration that stop intellectual exchange."
Head News Editor Marcia Brown contributed reporting.