Security Fears May Derail Iranian’s Plan for EU Study

(CN) – An Iranian scientist with a grant to study information-technology security can be denied entry into Germany on public-security grounds, the European Court of Justice ruled Tuesday.

Sahar Fahimian holds a master’s degree in information technology from Sharif University of Technology in Iran. The school has been sanctioned by the European Union due to its support of the Iranian military.

Fahimian won a grant to pursue her doctorate from the Center for Advanced Security Research Darmstadt, based largely on her research into cellphone security, smartphone-intrusion detection and security protocols. Accordingly, she applied for a student visa at the German embassy in Tehran – and was denied.

She sued the German government in Berlin’s administrative court, where authorities justified their refusal to give her a student visa by noting the knowledge Fahimian may acquire during her studies could be subsequently used by the Iranian government to collect secret information in the West, to repress its own people and to violate human rights.

But EU law also sets a high bar for the denial of student visas, with the aim of promoting Europe as a world center for study and professional training – provided the candidate is not a threat to public security.

In light of that, the Berlin court asked the European Court of Justice to weigh in on the latitude of immigration authorities to decide whether a student-visa applicant represents a security risk and whether they were entitled to deny Fahimian entry into Germany on that basis.

Noting the university where Fahimian received her master’s degree is on the EU sanctions list, the Luxembourg-based high court said immigration officials enjoy wide discretion in determining whether a student-visa applicant may be a security risk.

“The assessment of the individual situation of an applicant for a visa may involve complex evaluations based on the personality of that applicant, his integration in the country where he resides, the political, social and economic situation of that country, and the potential threat to public security represented by the admission of that applicant for study purposes to the territory of the member State concerned, in view of the risk that the knowledge acquired by that applicant during his studies might subsequently be used in his country of origin for purposes prejudicial to that public security,” the court wrote in its 7-page preliminary ruling.

“Such evaluations involve predicting the foreseeable conduct of the applicant for the visa, and must be based on an extensive knowledge of his country of residence and on the analysis of various documents and of the applicant’s statements. In those circumstances, the competent national authorities enjoy a wide discretion when assessing the relevant facts in order to determine whether the grounds set out in EU law, relating to the existence of a threat to public security, preclude the admission of the third country national,” the court continued.

Despite a recent thaw in EU-Iran relations – and a relaxation of many sanctions following an international peace agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions – the court noted Sharif University of Technology remains on the EU blacklist.

Whether Germany’s denial of Fahimian’s visa request was properly grounded on security concerns is for the Berlin court to decide, the EU high court said.

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