June 7, 2010

Senate Bill is a Major Step Forward for Students Seeking Single-Entry Visa Fix

Visa StampWashington, DC – Iranian students studying in the United States will soon be one step closer to being able to visit their families, attend international conferences, and travel abroad during the course of their studies. Key language inserted into the Senate’s National Defense Authorization Act (S.3454) will require the White House to evaluate and report how the U.S. can increase educational exchanges with Iranian students and expand the number and types of visas available for Iranians to study in the U.S. The White House report is expected to investigate the policy that only allows Iranians to receive single-entry visas, which Iranian students say is the number one burden for studying in the United States.

The National Iranian American Council worked closely with the Senate to ensure that this issue would be addressed and that language was included in the Fiscal Year 2011 National Defense Authorization Act. Under current policies, Iranian students studying in the U.S. are not able to leave the country, even on a temporary basis or in cases of emergency, without losing their visa. NIAC has worked with Iranian students and the Iranian-American community to send thousands of letters to President Obama urging him to fix the single-entry visa policy.

The visa language in the Defense Authorization Act is part of an Iran Engagement Report (Section 1234), which the President would be required to submit to Congress by January 31, 2011. Section 8 of the report, entitled “Student Visas”, directs the President to complete an “assessment of opportunities for the United States and Iran to engage in educational exchanges, including—(A) opportunities for expanding educational exchanges for Iranian students to study in the United States; and (B) the feasibility and advisability of expanding the number and types of visas issued to Iranians for educational exchanges.”

The National Defense Authorization Act must now be passed by the full Senate before it is conferenced with the House version and sent to the President. Once the bill is signed into law, the White House will be mandated to evaluate the visa issue, which will be critical to raising the profile of the single-entry visa problem within the White House and may spur the President to act to fix the problem. Depending on the White House’s next steps, the Obama Administration could implement a new policy to address the concerns regarding Iranian student visas, potentially issuing multiple entry visas to Iranian students. The White House may also present Congress with a menu of possible actions to resolve the problem.

Congress passes a Defense Authorization bill each year and is hoping to complete the Fiscal Year 2011 bill this summer, though the final deadline is not yet certain. NIAC will be meeting with the State Department in the near term to discuss next steps and will continue its work with Congress and the Administration the resolve the single-entry student visa issue.




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