Bias, Discrimination and Delays: The Painful Consequences of Delayed and Revoked Visas for Iranian Students Approved to Study in the United States

This month, the Iranian-American Chamber of Commerce is compelled to draw attention to the emerging crisis affecting students of Iranian heritage who seek to study in the United States. Earlier this month, reports began to emerge of Iranian students whose visas to study in the United States were suddenly and inexplicably revoked. The saga began to unfold with the news that roughly one dozen Iranian students were not permitted to board their inbound flights to the United States. Iranian-American organizations are beginning to investigate the underlying reasons for the delays and/or revocations, and the Iranian-American Chamber of Commerce takes time this month to highlight several articles bringing this urgent issue to the forefront.

The Trump Administration’s travel ban (also known as the Muslim ban) bars Iranians and nationals of six other countries from traveling to the U.S., but it does not apply to Iranian students. Nevertheless, the Iranian students at issue find themselves encountering the same hardships as those impacted by by travel ban. A 2012 law passed by the Obama Administration can deny visas to Iranian students whose U.S. education could lead them to work in the fields of energy or nuclear science once they return back to Iran.

However, experts say that this still does not explain the last-second rejection of the latest batch of students.

By mid-September, UC San Diego confirmed that two Iranian students who were scheduled to enroll for the fall quarter were barred from campus. In general, many of the Iranian students facing these visa-related hardships were bound for the University of California school system, in part a reflection of the caliber of the system and the large Iranian diaspora in California. University systems have come to the defense of the Iranian students, with Arizona State University President Michael M. Crow specifically stating that Customs and Border Protection (C.B.P.) is “unevenly and inappropriately making determinations that have no factual basis and that they have no experience making…If C.B.P. and [Department of Homeland Security] do not take this problem seriously, all universities need to seek review by Congress and the courts.”

The visa revocations may be a response to vehement hardline opposition in the U.S. Congress to diplomacy with Iran, with one publication noting that some congressional representatives have admitted that they have sought revocation of visas of relatives of Iranian governmental officials in order to exact revenge for grievances against the Iranian Government. Iranian students may very well be innocent bystanders caught in this political fray.

The Iranian-American Chamber of Commerce will continue to report on the situation and provide updates to any impacted members as appropriate. Until then, the clear losers in this scenario are the U.S. educational system, which recruits Iranian students from world-renowned universities like Sharif University, and the Iranian students who invest thousands of dollars on visa and travel arrangements – two groups that one would think would garner the consideration and care of policymakers.

by USIRCC Staff

The #FemDiplomacy Campaign: Building Bridges Across the Iranian-Arab Divide

Leila Mansouri is an immigration attorney with a U.S. law practice and global migration consulting practice. Leila is active in the Iranian-American community, and serves on the Boards of the Iranian American Bar Association and Persian Women in Tech. Recently, Leila spoke with the Iranian-American Chamber of Commerce regarding her latest project, a bridge-building initiative called #FemDiplomacy.

Leila Mansouri founded the #FemDiplomacy campaign after a conversation among Arab and Iranian friends at a wedding ceremony, motivating the purpose of the campaign to unite the two ethnic communities through arts, culture and discussion. 

“There has been a long history of hatred and racism and stereotypes between Arabs and Iranians. So basically, I founded this as a way to build bridges between the two,” Mansouri explains.

Since launching the grassroots campaign in May 2017 as a volunteer project, Mansouri has organized public events in Washington D.C. and London to showcase art, especially those created by Middle Eastern women. The campaign’s previous event in February collected donations for Syrian refugees through auctioning artwork by Arab and Iranian artists.   

In addition to public art exhibitions, #FemDiplomacy hosts roundtable discussions on more sensitive topics like women’s issues, which are open to interested individuals through inquiry. 

#FemDiplomacy aims to foster understanding between the Arab and Iranian communities through its hosted events and social media presence for those who are unable to travel and explore these different cultures themselves. Mansouri said that her biggest dream and goal with this initiative is to encourage conversation and for people “to start to break down their stereotypes.”

by Maristela Romero