Diplomatic history was made on July 14 when Iran signed a deal with the P5+1, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany. The deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), addresses Iran’s nuclear program. In exchange for the P5+1 countries lifting sanctions against Iran, Iran agreed to reduce or eliminate their enriched uranium stockpiles and not build any new uranium-enriching facilities, and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect all their current nuclear facilities.
The deal has met opposition from Republicans in the United States and the state of Israel—47 Republican lawmakers wrote a letter directly addressed to Iran’s leadership, stating that any treaty that the United States enters into must be ratified by a two-thirds vote in the Senate. However, economists, the tech sector, and academics might see the deal as beneficial to their interests. Iran has a very educated workforce and sends thousands of students to American colleges every year. Some prominent Iranian-Americans in science and technology include Pierre Omidyar, founder and CEO of eBay; Maryam Mirzakhani, the first female winner of the Fields Medal (the highest honor in mathematics); Omrid Kordestani, the chief business officer of Google; and Gholam Peyman, an opthamologist and retinal surgeon who invented LASIK corrective eye surgery in the 1980s.
According to the infographic above, largely drawn from the 2014 Washington Institute report on Iranian students, over 75 percent of Iranian students were enrolled in science and technology fields, the highest percentage amongst the top 20 countries who send students to American universities. 56 percent study engineering, also the highest percentage (India, the recipient of the most H1-B visas in fiscal years 2013 and 2014, placed second at 36 percent). Iran also has the highest percentage of students studying at the graduate level, and almost 90 percent prefer to stay in the United States after graduation. Iran’s contribution to the American tech landscape can also solve another problem in science and technology in this country—a third of Iranian students studying in America are women, a demographic that science and technology fields are still severely lacking in.
Economists and investors also see a very lucrative market to expand into as a result of the P5+1 countries lifting their sanctions. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has set a target of 8 percent average annual growth over the next five years. The Iranian economy is currently the 18th largest economy, and the Iranian stock market has a capitalization of $150 billion, the second largest in the Middle East. The lifting of sanctions could also see more foreign companies become active in the Iranian stock exchange. In addition, two-thirds of Iranians are under the age of 30, which also means their passion for tech and desire for work could play a huge part in revitalizing the Iranian economy and those who would like to invest in it in the long term.
While current American laws have been restrictive on hiring Iranian nationals because of a strained relationship with the country, the JCPOA will be essential to accessing Iranian talent, where Internet access is heavily restricted. Iranians have often had to use proxy servers and other workarounds to get around the Iran government’s strict Internet censorship policies. This could also be an advantage to American companies seeking innovators and digital security experts.
As a result of the JCPOA, American companies are seeking Iranian graduates from Sharif University and the University of Tehran, two of Iran’s top universities. One investor reported, “Today’s Iranian youth all want to be Steve Jobs, not the Ayatollah Khomeini.” The deal might have made diplomatic and political history, but it will also write a great future for the tech sector in Iran and abroad.