Important Update on Green Card Legislation

A new version of the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019 (H.R. 1044 — previously known as H.R. 392) has been introduced by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Ken Buck (R-CO) in the House of Representatives and Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mike Lee (R-UT) in the Senate.

It is largely identical to past versions in that it will remove the per-country limit on employment-based permanent residency, which would add significant wait time to individuals from smaller countries like Iran, while benefiting individuals from larger countries like India and China. In the 115th Congress, the legislation was added to the House homeland security appropriation before NIAC Action, the Iranian-American community, and Iranian nationals across the country rallied against it. Particularly given the combination of the Muslim Ban and the community’s reliance on single-entry visas, many were strongly concerned that H.R. 392 would have a hugely negative impact on Iranian nationals in the United States.

We continue to have strong concerns about the impacts of this proposal and are committed to ensuring that the visa and green card process is equitable for Iranians and will advocate accordingly. However, our collective advocacy, meetings, and calls so far have helped to secure one significant exception in the language of the new bill. Under the new language, if you have already filed a petition for employment-based permanent residency that has been approved, the bill would no longer add to your wait time.

What this means: If someone’s petition for an EB-1/2/3/4/5 visa is approved prior to Sep. 30, 2019 then they wouldn’t have to wait for the visa any longer than they do currently if the bill passes.

We recognize that while this change may lessen the impact of the bill’s passage on individuals over the near-term, many of our longer-term concerns regarding the bill’s impact on Iranian nationals’ path to a green card remain. Please take a moment to share your thoughts on this change and what impact it will have on you to inform our forthcoming discussions with legislators and their staff.

An Update on Slack

We thank Slack for working to restore service to those erroneously cut off and for apologizing for their mistake. User access and data must be restored and we hope that Slack will look closely at whether such compliance efforts were necessary in the first place.

While we acknowledge their explanation that users we’re not barred based on ethnicity or national origin, the fact is that, time and time again, the over-enforcement of Iran sanctions manifests itself in actions that discriminate against Iranians and Iranian Americans.

Companies must not err on the side of discrimination.

Unfortunately, Slack and many other companies have been forced to try to comply with a web of sanctions that are neither narrowly crafted nor clear in their targets. The impact of such a policy cannot be narrowly confined within Iran’s borders – spillover effects have and will continue as long as it is in place.

Critically, it makes zero sense for a communication program like Slack to be barred from Iranians in the first place – the Trump administration must take a look at its sanctions and determine how to ensure they do not harm ordinary Iranians both outside and inside Iran’s borders.

Sanctions Bar Educational Platform from Servicing Iranians

A nonprofit online education platform, edX, cited a delay in obtaining a U.S. government license as the basis for a recent suspension of services that inadvertently affected Iranian Americans. After sending an open letter to the company, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) has been working with edX to resolve complications arising from the suspension.

According to a response from edX, its specific license from the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for Iran expired prior to being granted a renewal. U.S. sanctions targeting Iran prohibit U.S. companies, such as edX, from exporting services to Iran, including educational services to Iranian nationals located in Iran, which impacted the availability of some edX courses. In order to comply with U.S. sanctions absent a specific license for work involving Iran, across a learner base of over 17 million users, edX identified individuals who could be resident in Iran based on self-identified country residence and IP address and barred them from coursework.

This appears to have included at least some individuals who are not currently resident in Iran (but whose last activity on edX indicated an Iran IP address), including at least one U.S. citizen based outside Iran. However, NIAC has found no evidence of discriminatory intent by edX, and NIAC staff has been assured by edX that it is willing to work to resolve any remaining complications for individuals who should be legally permitted to access edX’s online coursework. If you or a friend believe that they have been erroneously barred from edX coursework, please do not hesitate to contact either NIAC staff ( or edX Support (

NIAC notes that the availability of coursework to Iranian nationals, regardless of their country of residence, ultimately serves U.S. interests by building bridges to and empowering the Iranian people. Unfortunately, by failing to issue broad enough general licenses to permit edX and similar educational platforms to make its coursework available to Iranians, OFAC has once again ensured that sanctions harm the Iranian people but not the regime. We encourage OFAC to issue necessary licenses for platforms like edX and to carve out broad exemptions to enable Iranian nationals the ability to access educational and communications tools.

EdX Response to NIAC

NIAC Sends Letter to Corporations Lobbying for H.R. 392

Today, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) issued an open letter directed at corporations that have lobbied on behalf of H.R. 392, including Microsoft, Amazon, Texas Instruments, IBM, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. H.R. 392, also known as the “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2017, would remove a fundamental pillar of our immigration system and risk creating a monopoly over the green card process for nationals from one or two large countries. However unintentionally, support for H.R. 392 would also exacerbate the impact of the Muslim Ban for Iranians who can neither leave the country nor receive visits from family, and thereby help advance Donald Trump’s stated goal of a “shutdown” for Muslims entering the United States.

NIAC received concerns from many of our members following the bill’s inclusion in the House Homeland Security appropriation bill. However, it remains unclear whether the provision will ultimately pass into law.

NIAC’s letter below urges these corporations to reconsider their support for legislation that would, if passed, hurt many of their own employees already targeted by unfair immigration policies:

An Open Letter to the Corporations Supporting H

NIAC Concerned by edX Move to Bar Iranians from Coursework


UPDATE: edX responded to NIAC’s letter, citing a delay in obtaining a U.S. government license as the basis for a recent suspension of services that inadvertently affected Iranian Americans. See more here.

In response to messages received from its members, NIAC sent a letter today to edX, an online educational platform founded by Harvard University and MIT, expressing concern regarding its decision to terminate or reject the participation of students with Iranian background from its online coursework in an apparent attempt to comply with U.S. sanctions.

The decision has not just impacted individuals from Iran, but also Iranian Americans, in what appears to be an over-enforcement of U.S. sanctions with discriminatory impact on those with Iranian heritage. Given reports it appears that at least one Iranian American has been impacted by this policy. As a result, we are seeking information on  edX’s criteria for determining where specific students are based, Iran or otherwise. We strongly urge that edX alters its policies immediately to ensure that they are not over-enforcing sanctions or discriminating based on nationality and NIAC stands ready to assist edX in making that happen.

edX is one more example of the many companies that have or may go beyond standard sanctions compliance, especially as the first wave of pre-Iran deal sanctions are reimplemented. Many individuals of Iranian descent have been impacted by banks closing their accounts with little to no advance notice out of misguided fears that these individuals would seek to access their banking accounts while in Iran in violation of sanctions. Similarly, edX’s broad approach to compliance creates an environment conducive to discriminatory protocols and criteria, significantly impacting the every-day life Iranian Americans living in the U.S. Unintended, negative impacts of sanctions will remain a pervasive threat to Iranians and the Iranian-American community until the day that they are lifted.

Please see the letter below:

edX Letter (2)

MEDIA AVAILABILITY: Experts Available to Discuss Trump’s Muslim Ban


Contact: Jamal Abdi, Vice President of Policy – 202.386.6408,

Trita Parsi, President – 202.386.6325,

Mahsa Payesteh, Outreach Director – 214.236.4440,

Ryan Costello, Assistant Policy Director – 703.963.1901,

Adam Weinstein, Policy Associate – 202.386.6319,

Experts from the National Iranian American Council are available to discuss the Supreme Court’s outrageous decision to uphold Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and the necessity for Congress to take action to end the ban once and for all.

Iranians and their Iranian-American families in the U.S. have been the group most impacted by the ban. Families have been ripped apart with no end in sight and students have been unable to pursue their dreams. The Iranian-American community has been praised by the Trump White House as one of the most successful immigrant communities in the United States, yet will be barred on a permanent basis because of Trump’s ban and the Supreme Court’s morally hollow decision.

The following experts are available to discuss this dark day for American justice:

Jamal Abdi is Vice President for Policy for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and the Executive Director of NIAC Action. He leads NIAC’s advocacy and education on civil rights and immigration issues, as well as diplomacy with Iran. He formerly served as Policy Advisor on foreign affairs, immigration, and defense issues in the U.S. Congress. Abdi has written for The New York Times, CNN, Foreign Policy, and blogs at The Huffington Post.  He is a frequent guest contributor in print, radio, and television, including appearances on Al Jazeera, NPR, and BBC News. Follow Jamal on Twitter: @jabdi

Trita Parsi, is the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. He is the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council and an expert on civil rights and US-Iranian relations. He is the author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States (Yale University Press 2007) and A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press 2012).

Parsi’s articles have been published in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Financial Times, Jane’s Intelligence Review, the Nation,The American Conservative, the Jerusalem Post, The Forward, and others. He is a frequent guest on CNN, PBS’s Newshour with Jim Lehrer, NPR, the BBC, and Al Jazeera. Follow Trita on Twitter: @tparsi

Mahsa Payesteh joined the National Iranian American Council as a Community Outreach Associate in January 2015 and works to empower and organize Iranian Americans to have a strong voice on the political issues that matter most to them.

Mahsa studied Psychology at The University of Texas at Dallas. She formerly worked as a Physical Therapy Assistant in Dallas, TX. Mahsa served as a volunteer NIAC Ambassador in Dallas for two years. She has always felt a strong connection to her Iranian heritage and has had a special interest in issues affecting the Iranian people. Following her experience volunteering at the 2014 Leadership Conference, Mahsa consequently decided to pursue a more active and permanent role with NIAC.

Ryan Costello joined NIAC in April 2013 as a Policy Fellow and now serves as Assistant Policy Director. In this role, Ryan monitors legislation, conducts research and writing, and coordinates advocacy efforts on civil rights and U.S.-Iran policy.

Ryan previously served as a Program Associate at the Connect U.S. Fund, where he focused on nuclear non-proliferation policy. He has published in American Foreign Policy Interests, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, CNN GPS, Foreign Policy, The Hill, Huffington Post and Roll Call. Ryan graduated from American University’s School of International Service with a Master of Arts in U.S. Foreign Policy, and from Ursinus College where he majored in history and international relations. Follow Ryan on Twitter: @RN_Costello

Adam Weinstein joined the National Iranian American Council as a Policy Associate in April 2017. In this role, Adam monitors legislation, policy briefs, and legal cases, conducts research and writing, and supports advocacy efforts. He focuses on national security, diplomacy, immigration and civil rights issues.

Adam served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was deployed to Afghanistan. He received his J.D. from Temple University in Philadelphia, where he focused on international law, national security law, and immigration law. He graduated from the University of Miami with a B.A. in International Relations.

Adam has written for Foreign Policy, CNN, The Diplomat, Newsweek, Haaretz, the Atlantic Council’s Iran Insight, the London School of Economics Middle East Centre and South Asia Centre, and the Huffington Post.


About NIAC: The National Iranian American Council is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the voice of Iranian Americans and promoting greater understanding between the American and Iranian people. We accomplish our mission through expert research and analysis, civic and policy education, and community building.

Nike Petition Update: Demanding Accountability from Nike

An update on our petition , “Tell Nike Not to Politicize the World Cup,” in regards to Nike’s refusal to provide cleats to the Iranian World Cup Team:

We are all proud of how Team Melli played in the World Cup, but we are also so proud of how this community was able to come together to support the Iranian national soccer team. With every new petition signature, we show Nike that Iranian-Americans are willing to unite in the face of discrimination against our people and community.

Though our petition has not received a response yet, we wanted to let you know that we are putting additional pressure on Nike. We have sent their CEO, Mark Parker, a letter detailing our concerns and asking for answers. You can find an excerpt of the letter below.

Over the past eighteen months, our community has been living under a Muslim Travel Ban that prevents our families from visiting us in the United States. With the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, we collectively worry about the prospect of a war with Iran. The World Cup is a rare chance to put aside the many political challenges of the moment and to celebrate what unites us – sport. This is a principle that so many of us have viewed as a core element of Nike’s brand and mission. I hope you understand how disappointing your decision is for our community, but, in the spirit of transcending what divides us and instead celebrating what unites us, we would like to request a meeting to discuss this issue further and help broker a resolution or understanding.

Nike’s statement to the press explained that “sanctions mean that, as a U.S. company, we cannot provide shoes to players in the Iran national team at this time.” However, many in the Iranian-American community believe that Nike made a political decision rather than one rooted simply in legal obligation. We fully understand that corporations are placed in the tenuous position of navigating a labyrinth of U.S. sanctions laws. However, like most of the Iranian-American community, we too do not understand Nike’s legal rationale in this particular situation.

We would be interested to learn in more detail why Nike made this decision so that we can communicate it to our community and, as appropriate, conduct our own outreach with U.S. government agencies to address this challenge and prevent similar issues from arising in the future.

Please continue sharing the petition with your family and friends.

If you’re interested in getting involved with any of the groups sponsoring this petition, please click the links below:

Aftab Committee
Iranian Alliances Across Borders
Iranian-American Bar Association
National Iranian American Council
United For Iran

NIAC Strongly Condemns the Iranian Judiciary’s Detention of Nasrin Sotoudeh

Contact: Trita Parsi
Phone: 202-386-6325

Washington, D.C. – Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement regarding Nasrin Sotoudeh’s unjust arrest and detention in Evin Prison:

“NIAC strongly condemns the Iranian judiciary’s detention of Sotoudeh and calls for the immediate release of her and all prisoners of conscience. Nasrin Sotoudeh, Iran’s most prominent human rights lawyer, has been arrested at her home and transferred to Evin Prison earlier today. Sotoudeh has dedicated her life to human rights and faced unjust imprisonment in the past. In 2012, after three years of confinement she went on multiple hunger strikes and her weight was reduced to 95 pounds. That same year she received the European Union’s highest human rights award, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Following her release, Sotoudeh was barred from the practice of law for three years but it was reduced to nine months.

“Most recently Sotoudeh has represented several young women who have been arrested for removing their hijabs as a form of protest in public. Her current arrest comes without a formal charge and was first reported on her husband’s Facebook page but later confirmed by the New York Times and BBC Persian. Iran’s Judiciary continues to terrorize its citizens with fabricated charges, zero due process, and inhumane prison conditions. Sotoudeh has devoted her life to defending the human dignity of her clients and now finds herself torn from her family and imprisoned. This is absolutely unacceptable and it is incumbent on Iran’s highest authorities to facilitate her release immediately.

“Many have feared there would be a worsening human rights situation and an emboldening of hardline elements in Iran with the heightening of tensions with the United States. Indeed, we have seen this pattern in the past and are concerned that Sotoudeh’s arrest is evidence this trend is repeating. Lost in much of the discourse over the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and announcement of new sanctions and escalatory measures has been the impact these external actions may have on the political dynamics inside of Iran. The blame of course lies with those actors inside Iran who are seizing on this opportunity to advance an agenda that is anathema to Iran’s human rights obligations and to the wishes of the Iranian people. At the same time, the U.S. must carefully consider how our actions create opportunities for such elements and reduce our ability, as well as the international community’s ability, to hold Iran accountable to its human rights obligations.”

Pompeo Pressed on Iran before Senate Committee

“The Saudis and their allies, the Gulf Sheikdoms, spend eight times more (militarily) than Iran,” noted Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday. “So when you tell Iran, you have to give up your ballistic missile program but you don’t say anything to the Saudis, you think they’re ever going to sign that?”

Sen. Paul was questioning Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the Trump Administration’s twelve demands of Iran, which many interpreted as a fanciful wish list rather than the comprehensive strategy the administration billed it as. Paul noted the hypocrisy of the demands as the U.S. was not asking any of its own partners in the region to sign up for them. Regarding Pompeo’s demand that Iran reveal the military dimensions of its nuclear program, Paul said “Let’s substitute Israel for Iran there. Does anybody think that Israel’s going to reveal the military dimensions of their nuclear program?”

Regarding the demand for Iran to withdraw all its forces from Syria, Paul asserted that Saudi Arabia and Qatar have funded ISIS and stated, “So if you want Iran to stop — I mean Saudi Arabia and Qatar are 10 times the problem, you know, the whole Syrian war has all of these radical jihadists, the people who attacked us came from Saudi Arabia.”

Pompeo was also pressed on the administration’s rhetorical support for the Iranian people who are still subject to Trump’s Muslim ban.

“One of the lines of effort you mentioned included supporting the Iranian people, which I was intrigued by,” noted Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware. “Are you advocating that President Trump remove Iran from the list of countries whose citizens can’t come to the United States through the travel ban? And help me with whether the Trump administration visa policy is consistent with outreach to the Iranian people?”

Pompeo did not answer directly, indicating that “there are many pieces of this that I will concede we still have work to do to figure out.” However, Pompeo asserted that the Iranian people, who the Secretary helps ensure can’t obtain a visa under the ban, “won’t be on their own.” Yet, until the administration rescinds the ban, its rhetorical support for the Iranian people will ring utterly hollow.

Pompeo was also pressed by Senator Udall and others on the committee regarding his views of the administration’s war power authorities on Iran. In response to Sen. Udall’s question on whether the President has the authority to wage war against Iranian militias under either the 2001 or 2002 authorizations to use military force – targeting al-Qaeda and Iraq, respectively – Pompeo said that he did not know. Earlier in the day, the House of Representatives passed a key defense bill asserting that the Congress has not authorized the use of military forces against Iran under any act.

NIAC Calls on Bank of America to End Discriminatory Practices Against Iranian Americans

Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408

Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council is calling on Bank of America to immediately end discriminatory practices against Iranians and Iranian Americans and to conduct a full review of its procedures related to the suspension bank accounts held by individuals of Iranian descendant.

“Closing bank accounts on the basis of national origin or heritage is discriminatory,” said Jamal Abdi, NIAC Vice President for Policy. “If Bank of America is unable to comply with the myriad of U.S. sanctions on Iran without discriminating against persons of Iranian heritage, it needs to take that up with the U.S. government instead of passing the burden onto ordinary people.”

NIAC has received numerous inquiries and complaints from Iranian visa holders and permanent residents, as well U.S. citizens of Iranian descent, regarding closures of their bank accounts by Bank of America. In one case, and individual was unable to access their own funds when they needed to pay for medical expenses for their pregnant spouse. In other cases, Bank of America has closed accounts and sent reimbursement checks that have been lost in the mail.

“As tensions rise between the U.S. and Iran, we are concerned that ordinary Iranians and Iranian Americans will be caught in the middle,” said Abdi. “ We cannot allow entities like Bank of America to protect themselves at the expense of the rights and protections of their customers.”

Following the discriminatory measures taken by Bank of America in the wrongful closing and seizure of bank accounts belonging to Iranian Americans, NIAC delivered a letter to Bank of America CEO, Brian T. Moynihan, voicing the concerns of the Iranian-American community. NIAC had previously been in contact with Bank of America over related concerns in 2014 and received only perfunctory responses and no willingness by Bank of America to review or adjust its policies.

NIAC has addressed similar concerns with several banks and businesses that have engaged in discriminatory practices in the name of complying with U.S. sanctions on Iran, including other major banks and large corporations like Apple. In some cases, NIAC was able to help facilitate policy changes by the business, in other cases NIAC was able to secure necessary adjustments to U.S. sanctions policies.

NIAC is open to working with Bank of America to ensure that the rights of its customers are protected. NIAC will continue to to protect against violations of civil liberties targeting the Iranian-American community and ensure that all possible avenues for resolving such violations are pursued.