Iranian traditional singer Alireza Ghorbani was unable to perform in California last week after US agents questioned him for hours and refused him entry.
Organizers of the sold-out celebration of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, said the 49-year-old could not attend after he was arrested by agents at a Toronto airport on Friday and was refused entry to the United States after interrogation.
“He got on his flight, sat in his seat and some other stuff [US immigration] Officials got on the plane and got him out,” said Alireza Ardekani, executive director of the Los Angeles-area nonprofit Farhang Foundation, which worked with the Pacific Symphony to host the Nowruz event.
“They interrogated him for almost four hours and finally told him that his visa would be canceled and he could no longer travel to the United States,” Ardekani said.
“I just got a text saying he can’t come – I thought it was a joke,” he added.
Ardekani later learned that Ghorbani’s temporary detention and denial of travel were related to his military service.
From the age of 18, Iranian men are required to complete up to two years of military service and are essentially conscripted for service, including in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The White House under the Trump administration designated the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization in 2019. It was the first time Washington designated an element of a foreign state as a terrorist entity, setting a bad precedent in international relations.
In response, Iran declared all US forces in the Middle East terrorists and called the US government a sponsor of terrorism.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington peaked in January 2020 when the US assassinated prominent IRGC anti-terrorist general Qassem Soleimani, after which Iran responded with rocket fire at two US bases in Iraq.
Under the Biden administration, the US pledged to pursue a less confrontational policy toward Iran. She entered negotiations held in Austria’s capital, Vienna, to rejoin Trump’s abandoned Iran deal and lift his so-called maximum pressure sanctions, which included designating the IRGC.
Nonetheless, the Vienna talks have been dragged out by America’s excessive demands and failure to lift all sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic since the Iran deal went into effect in early 2016.
According to recent reports, one of the key issues remaining is the White House’s refusal to unconditionally remove the IRGC from its so-called terror list. Some of Washington’s Middle East allies, such as Israel, have already expressed outrage at the possibility of such a move.
For decades, the US has imposed sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector and a range of exports of goods and services.
Under the US Sanctions Act, individuals are required to apply for specific licenses if they wish to be exempt from prohibited transactions, and there are complicated reporting requirements even for permitted activities.
In practice, this means that hundreds of thousands of Iranian-Americans with family and financial ties to Iran may face a complex set of pressures and obstacles in their lives, work and education.
In addition to the wave of Iranian students denied visas at the last minute, the sanctions law also prohibits faculty members from traveling to Iran for research or other purposes without US Treasury Department approval.
In 2019, Iranian researchers were prosecuted when they attempted to conduct stem cell research in the United States.