M.R. asks:
As the R&D manager of a fast-growing semiconductor start-up, I spend a lot of time selecting candidates for my team. These days, we regularly receive very good applications from Iranians but we wonder if it’s wise to hire them. Do you know if they can work on government projects? How do other tech companies deal with this?


The headhunter answers:
I, too, have noticed the influx of engineers from Iran. At Eindhoven University of Technology alone, there are already 148 employees and 28 students of Iranian descent and I suspect it won’t be different at other technical universities. There are also many engineers from Iran applying to European companies. The level of some universities over there is quite high but the future perspective for engineers isn’t particularly good, so I’ve heard. Due to all trade restrictions, it’s virtually impossible to acquire certain components, software and equipment, which doesn’t make life any easier. In addition, the political and cultural climate isn’t all that pleasant for everyone, and the road west beckons – as it always has.
Since 2006, the UN Security Council has adopted a number of resolutions requiring Iran to cease uranium enrichment for the proliferation of nuclear weapons. These resolutions were increasingly accompanied by restrictive measures to persuade the country to comply with that demand, thereby aggravating worldwide tensions. This has also had consequences for Iranian engineers looking for employment in Europe. Fearing their specialist knowledge will be used for the Iranian missile program, the Dutch government last spring announced an immediate screening of Iranian students and scientists in the Netherlands. The problem with the technology in question, however, is that it involves many specialized areas, such as mechanical engineering, aircraft technology, electrical engineering and (nuclear) physics. Many engineers can thus be labeled as “nuclear”.
Consulting Dutch governmental organizations on what obstacles there are for Iranians wanting to work at technology companies in the Netherlands isn’t very helpful. The Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) doesn’t concern itself with government regulations in this area and leaves it to the business community. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) doesn’t discriminate between nationalities in its highly skilled migrant procedure – a background check isn’t part of the screening.

In the business world, people are now aware of the problem. Inquiries with several large semiconductor companies show Iranians to be blacklisted, alongside some other nationalities. US-based Cadence, for instance, doesn’t appreciate Iranians coming into contact with its American technology. The same applies to other EDA software providers. These businesses possess a plethora of technologies that can be used in the defense or nuclear industry. That makes it very difficult for Iranian engineers to fulfill a position within the R&D department of a chip company.
It’s quite distressing to see so many Iranian engineers having to deal with this ‘boycott’. After all, only a few people will actually have ‘passed on’ knowledge used in weapons of mass destruction or missile programs. What I hear about Iranian engineers working in the West is that they generally fit very well into Western culture, are highly motivated for their jobs and have good technical skills.