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Iranian researcher, barred under Trump ban, arrives 8 months later

Soheil Saravi, right, was greeted by Dr. Thomas Michel as he arrives at Logan Airport on Wednesday.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

When Sayed Soheil Saravi walked through the international arrivals gate at Logan Airport on Wednesday, he was greeted by two accordionists and a guitarist playing a traditional Iranian folk tune.

“Welcome to Boston! Welcome to America!” Dr. Thomas Michel said, as he swung his cherry-red accordion to his side and wrapped his arms around Saravi.

“Thank you!” Saravi said, as his wife, Khatareh, looked on, beaming. “Thank you for everything.”

The meeting of the two scientists was emotional because it was eight months delayed and, for a time, looked like it might not happen at all.

Saravi, a promising young diabetes researcher from Iran, had intended to fly to Boston in February to work in Michel’s lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. But his visa was suspended in January when President Trump issued his first travel ban, barring citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran, from entering the United States.

After joining a lawsuit challenging the ban, and receiving support from local political leaders, Saravi’s visa was restored in March and his wife’s was issued several months later, allowing her to accompany him to Boston as his spouse.


Soheil Saravi.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Saravi, 31, plans to spend two years as a postdoctoral fellow studying the effects of diabetes on the heart. He will also be a researcher at Harvard Medical School, which is affiliated with the Brigham.

“I’m very happy to come to the United States to continue my scientific training here,” Saravi said, reading softly from a statement he had written on his phone. “All my life I’ve wanted to come to Boston and study and work at Harvard University and to learn from the great doctors and scientists here, like Professor Michel.”

Michel said he was also moved.

“I view Dr. Saravi’s arrival as a victory for the universality of science, the persistence and dedication of one individual, and the fact that Boston is a city that has traditionally welcomed the best and brightest to come here and study,” he said.


Saravi was one of a number of highly educated foreigners whose lives were disrupted by the ban. In addition to the suspension of his visa, he said he lost financial support for his research and had to scramble for new sponsors. Adding to his travails, he suffered health problems that required two surgeries.

“I’m so glad that I’m here now, but I should say that some actions, like the travel ban, aren’t reasonable for Iranians who love peace, culture, literature, and humanity,” he said.

Colin Ferguson of Watertown and Dr. Thomas Michel played in Terminal E as they waited for Saravi to arrive.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Michel said he wanted his colleagues and friends to play music with him in Terminal E so Saravi would feel welcomed when he arrived in Boston. One held a sign that read, “Welcome Soheil and Khatareh. Science Transcends Borders.”

In addition to playing the Iranian folk tune, which he learned on the spot from an Iranian couple in the terminal, Michel used his accordion, nicknamed Rosie, to squeeze out a medley of patriotic American tunes, including “This Land is Your Land” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“His behavior is like a dad,” Saravi said, laughing.

“He’s a special guy with a lot of skill,” Michel said.

Despite the joy of the moment, Michel said he remains deeply worried about the future of scientific research in the Trump era. He pointed to Trump’s plans to cut research funding, his harsh rhetoric about immigrants, and his latest travel ban, issued Sunday.


Beginning Oct. 18, Trump’s new policy will bar entry to most citizens of seven countries: North Korea, Chad, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Libya, and Iran. Venezuelans and Iraqis will face heightened scrutiny.

“I think we’re looking at the beginning of the end of America’s leadership in science if the current policies are going to be pursued,” Michel said.

But he said he was glad, at least, that Saravi can begin his research in Boston.

Saravi said he was eager to find an apartment, get to work, and put the frustrations of the travel ban behind him.

“Now I’m really stronger than before because I’ve passed many limitations, many restrictions,” he said.

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.