NIAC Deeply Concerned by Flight Ban on Iranian Students

In response to recent reports that the Trump Administration is preventing Iranian students with visas from boarding their flights to the United States, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) issued the following statement:

“The National Iranian American Council is deeply concerned by reports that a large number of Iranian students with visas were barred from boarding their flights at the last minute by the Trump administration. The students were fully vetted and set to study in the United States during the fall semester, and now have had their futures thrown into disarray with no explanation from either the State Department or Department of Homeland Security. 

“NIAC calls on the Trump Administration to provide a full and transparent accounting of what is behind these recent actions and whether a new policy has been put in place. NIAC is working with several of those impacted, as well as Congress, regarding these cases and inquiring with several branches of government. We will keep working to ensure that this and all bans imposed by the Trump administration on Iranian nationals are lifted once and for all.”

“The current iteration of Trump’s Muslim ban – which continues to unfairly discriminate against Iranian nationals – includes narrow exemptions for Iranian students to secure visas. However, many of those lucky enough to secure entry to American colleges and visas from the State Department now appear to have encountered a second ban that turned them back from the airport. The Trump administration owes it to the American people – which strongly opposes the Muslim ban – as well as to Congress and those impacted to fully detail the reason for its flight ban on Iranian students, the number of individuals impacted and to permit those who pose no security risk to travel to the United States to begin or resume their studies.”

Did you have a visa to study in the United States, but were turned away prior to boarding or upon entry to the United States? Fill out our form so that we can track the impact and help determine the cause of this change in government policy. We will keep all information confidential.

Memo: A Snapshot of Visas and Waivers Over One Year of the Muslim Ban

Lack of information on the implementation of the Muslim Ban has served as one of the greatest impediments to challenging it. January 27, 2019 marked two years since the Muslim Ban first went into effect as Executive Order 13769. It was repackaged as Executive Order 13780, signed on March 6, 2017, and finally Presidential Proclamation 9645, issued on September 24, 2017. Last week, the State Department finally delivered statistics on the Muslim Ban to Senator Van Hollen thanks to his tireless efforts to seek answers. Below are some key findings based on the statistics released:

Iranians Only Granted Waivers in 1.6% of Cases

  • Between December 8, 2017 and October 31, 2018:
    • 19,163 Iranians rejected under ‘undue hardship’ or ‘national interest’ criteria.
    • 5,978 languished in administrative processing for the national security element of the waiver process.
    • Iranians represent 21,089 out of 31,304 total nonimmigrant visas and 8,545 out of 17,352 total immigrant visas subject to ban during this period.
    • Of those rejected for a waiver for failure to prove undue hardship or national interest criteria, Iranians represent 77% of rejections. 19,163 out of 24,584 total.
    • Only 413 met the conditions for a waiver. This is an abysmally low 1.6%.
    • In other words, for every one Iranian who qualified for a waiver, 46 were rejected.
    • Not all of those who qualified for a waiver received a visa. For every 71 applicants, only 1 Iranian was issued a visa.

Iranian Students Exempted But Still Impacted

  • All Iranian immigrant visa applicants were subject to the ban, however it makes an exception for Iranian nationals under valid student (F and M) and exchange visitor (J) visas. Out of 25,752 Iranian nonimmigrant visa applicants, 21,089 were subject to the Muslim Ban and 4,663 were exempted under F, M, and J visas.
  • However, State Department statistics that are released monthly show that only 2,160 F, M, and J visas were actually issued during this period. Numerous students who previously received visas were unable to renew them and complete their studies. For some perspective, in 2015, there were 4,944 F, M, and J visas issued to Iranian nationals according to the State Department’s annual statistics. This is an approximately 56% drop.

Numbers Reveal that the Ban is Still a Muslim Ban Despite the Addition of Venezuela and North Korea

  • Venezuela was added to Proclamation 9645 (Muslim Ban 3.0) in an embarrassingly transparent effort by the Trump administration to distract from the Islamophobic nature of the ban. However, the Venezuelan ban only applies to B-1/B-2 visas and only to officials of select government agencies such as the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service. Thus the addition of Venezuela was meaningless and the newly released numbers reflect as much:
    • Out of 3,093 Venezuelan immigrant visa applicants and 87,573 nonimmigrant visa applicants not a single one was subject to the ban.
  • Visas are suspended for all North Korean nationals but due to the nature of U.S.-North Korean relations this has only impacted 62 visa applicants compared to tens of thousands from other countries.

NIAC Sends Letter on Long Administrative Processing for Student Visas

NIAC wrote to the Bureau of Consular Affairs and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in regard to reports of long administrative processing times for Iranian students, including visa renewals for those who have already began studying in the U.S, requesting to meet with the offices. Please find the letter in its entirety below.

.برای خواندن این متن به فارسی اینجا کلیک کنید


Letter Regarding Student Visa Applicants

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

Attention: Iranian Students Waiting for F & J Visas

Is your student visa stuck in administrative processing while your semester start date creeps closer and closer? We understand your frustration and this is the time of year when students become anxious that they won’t receive their visa in time to begin classes. Please contact us at to learn what actions we can help you take which include:

  • Receiving a late start approval letter from your department dean which will allow you to begin the semester late if you are not issued your visa on time.
  • Seeking the assistance of the lawmakers that serve the state and district where your university is located.
  • Information on visas for dependents of students.

When you contact us, please include your university, department, and starting date of study.


FAQ on H.R. 392

Could H.R. 392 pass? Where does it stand in the legislative process?

The “Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act of 2017” (H.R. 392 in the House of Representatives & S. 281 in the Senate) has been added via amendment to the House appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Neither the House nor the Senate homeland security appropriation bill has passed the full chamber, and the Senate version does not include language that would eliminate per-country limits for employment-based immigration. If the House provision is included in the final version of the appropriation bill, it could pass each chamber and ultimately be sent to Donald Trump for signature. It remains in play whether this will happen and the legislation will ultimately pass into law.

Who will be impacted?

All nationals of countries other than India, China, Mexico, and the Philippines who seek to gain permanent residency through the EB-1, EB-2, or EB-3 categories will face increased wait times that will be measured in years but likely less than a decade. Individuals under the EB-1 category will likely experience the shortest wait times which are projected at approximately three years, whereas second and third preference categories will probably experience a longer wait time. However, those impacted by the Muslim Ban and subjected to single-entry visas would be kept inside the country while their family is kept out, which will effectively prevent them from seeing their family during this period.

What impact will this proposed legislation have on Iranians and other nationalities impacted by the Muslim Ban?

These changes will eliminate per-country limits for employment-based immigration which means the wait time to transition to a green card will increase by years. This is because eliminating per-country limits will benefit larger countries with a greater number of citizens working in the U.S. who are currently subject to a significant backlog. However, any policy change that extends the wait time for permanent residency will particularly impact Iranians and other nationalities impacted by the Muslim Ban since many find themselves on single-entry visas and their family members are banned from visiting.

Could speaking out against H.R. 392 be used against a non-citizen impacted by the Muslim Ban?

We are aware that some groups have sought to intimidate Iranians and others with threats of false accusations of visa fraud based on the accusation that Iranians on nonimmigrant visas are demonstrating an intent to remain in the U.S. by speaking against H.R. 392. We cannot offer legal advice on this issue, however, we can assure individuals that they should not be intimidated by these threats. Student visas (F/J) are nonimmigrant visas and require a nonimmigrant intent, whereas H-1B visas are dual intent visas. However, people, including visa holders, are able to criticize an unfair policy, and mere criticism does not demonstrate a preexisting intent to use a nonimmigrant visa to remain in the U.S. We are disturbed that some groups are seeking to intimidate our community with veiled threats. Criticisms of H.R. 392 should focus on the policy itself rather than any particular case or circumstances.  If you have a specific legal question then please contact an immigration attorney.

What corporations have supported and/or lobbied for H.R. 392?

These companies include Amazon, Deloitte LLP, Equifax Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., and Texas Instruments among others. However, the bills will likely negatively affect many of their own employees, including those targeted by the Muslim ban.

How exactly does H.R. 392 change current immigration policy and why do some groups support it?

The current policy is that no one country can account for more than 7% of visas leading to a green card in any given year. This policy has kept wait times for smaller countries that naturally fall below that 7% threshold short and it assures that our immigrant pool remains diverse. However, it has also created a backlog of decades for large countries such as India. Republican lawmakers have routinely blocked efforts to expand immigration altogether even though U.S. corporations become increasingly reliant on high-skilled foreign employees, especially in the STEM fields. Consequently, some major corporations that rely on employees from larger countries and nationals from those countries have pushed to do away with the per-country limits. But this will produce the unintended and harsh consequence of forcing victims of the Muslim Ban to choose between remaining in the U.S. or seeing their family.

High-Skilled Immigrants Act Would Hurt Muslim Immigrants, Foreign Nationals from Smaller Countries

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Late last month, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KA) convinced the House Appropriations Committee to include his legislation, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act (H.R. 392), into the 2018 Department of Homeland Security funding bill.

According to the National Iranian American Council, the amendment would eliminate per-country limits for employment-based  permanent residency and produce serious strains for individuals from smaller countries, especially Iranians and other nationals already subject to the Muslim travel ban. This means that certain nationals, including Iranians, will face dramatic increases in wait times to adjust their status, as larger countries would flood the system with additional applicants. Previously, the US State Department described country caps as ‘a barrier against monopolization.’

In reaction to the inclusion of the amendment in the Homeland Security Funding Bill, Jamal Abdi, President of NIAC Action, the political arm of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement:

“The pathway to citizenship must remain an opportunity that is shared equally by individuals of all nations – this is a fundamental pillar of our immigration system. However, this amendment, under the guise of fairness, could result in Iranian immigrants, and other foreign nationals from smaller countries, to be forced to wait years to see immediate family members or begin the process of earning US citizenship.

“The path to permanent residency and citizenship for talented men and women from underrepresented countries, especially smaller nations in the developing world, is fraught with difficulties. The per-country limits ensure that the aspirations of these individuals are not obscured and our naturalization pool remains diverse. Even a cursory examination of the State Department’s immigrant visa statistics reveals that without these limits, nationals from a handful of high-population countries will account for the vast majority of green cards.

“Congress should not rush through any legislation that significantly reduces or eliminates per-country limits for permanent residency without undertaking basic steps to ensure that Iranians and other nationals that have nearly been locked out of the visa system entirely by the Trump administration are not further disadvantaged by changes ostensibly designed to level the playing field

“Our elected lawmakers should seriously consider all ramifications of this legislation before labeling this an easy fix to a complex problem.”

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NIAC Joins Letter Demanding ICE Release Detention Records

The National Iranian American Council joined several other organizations in signing onto a letter to the Department of Homeland Security demanding the release of detention records from the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The release of detention records would provide advocacy groups with information needed to stand against the Trump administration’s attack on sanctuary cities and immigrants in general.

Organizations signing included the National Immigration Law Center and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, alongside 40 others.

The letter highlighted the Department’s legal obligation to comply with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). FOIA allows individuals and organizations to demand access to records.

The FOIA statute permits the withholding of information only if an agency reasonably foresees that releasing the information would be harmful to operations or its disclosure is otherwise prohibited by law. The letter argues that ICE overuses the excuse that a disclosure would harm its operational capabilities in order to avoid providing information.

The letter referred to similar FOIA requests filed by state representatives and law enforcement agencies as evidence for the necessity of greater transparency regarding ICE activities and of the broader policy implications of the issue.

The records being withheld are known as “Declined Detainer Outcome Reports,” which are meant to be released weekly. The reports detail which non-Federal jurisdictions in the country do not honor detainer requests issued from the federal ICE office. Given the inaccurate and misleading nature of information contained in previous reports, access to the data is required for advocates to have proper insight into the Administration’s immigration crackdown.

The letter demands access to previously released data on sanctuary cities as a minimum requirement under the FOIA.


NIAC Calls on Authorities to Release Detained Iranian Citizen Holding Valid Visa

Contact: Ryan Costello
Phone: 202-386-6325

The National Iranian American Council issued the following statement on the arrest of an Iranian citizen with a valid visa in Oregon:

“The National Iranian American Council calls upon authorities to release and explain the arrest and detention of Alia Ghandi, an Iranian citizen who holds a valid U.S. visa. Ghandi’s arrest raises a number of concerns that Iranians are still being unfairly targeted by immigration enforcement due to their national origin, in spite of court orders putting a hold on Trump’s Muslim ban.”

“Ghandi traveled to Oregon to visit her sister who is a U.S. citizen, where upon arrival a customs officer reportedly questioned her on why she had so many documents with her and subsequently denied her entry. Alia protested the deportation and was promptly arrested and sent to the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center. Alia’s sister has not yet been permitted to visit her in jail even though she has been detained for over 48-hours.”

“Alia’s sister claims she has since been asked if she wanted Alia – an architect – to remain in the U.S. and serve as a babysitter for her two young children. We understand that customs agents have a responsibility to ask tough questions, albeit in a respectful manner. According to Matthew dos Santos, Legal Director of ACLU Oregon, Alia has decided to claim asylum, which is her right, and the U.S. has an obligation to hear her case. Rather than being thrown in jail, asylum seekers should be welcomed, assisted, and permitted a chance to be heard by a judge.”

“Visitors from Muslim and Middle Eastern countries have long felt unwelcome at U.S. airports and the entry process – even with a visa – remains arbitrary. We fear that the Trump administration and its Muslim Ban executive orders have empowered a culture of xenophobia rather than professionalism within Customs and Border Patrol, as numerous examples including Ghandi’s demonstrate. Further, this climate of fear risks unduly targeting and diminishing Iranian’s desire to even pursue their dreams or visit their family here in the United States. The fate of valid visa holders should not be determined by the “luck of the draw” in which agent greets them at the border and detention should be reserved for criminals.”


NIAC Joins Amicus Brief to Protect Immigrants’ Citizenship

Washington, DC – NIAC has joined 73 other organizations to file an amicus brief in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that threatens to allow the government to strip individuals of their U.S. citizenship for making minor, immaterial misstatements during the immigration process. Traditionally, stripping naturalized citizens of their citizenship has been reserved for individuals who lie about involvement in terrorism or genocide rather than minor immaterial misstatements.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit has held that a naturalized American citizen can be stripped of their citizenship in a criminal proceeding based on an immaterial false statement. This departs from the holdings of the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 1st, 4th, 7th and 9th Circuits. The case is set to be argued before the US Supreme Court on April 26, 2017 in a case known as case is Maslenjak v. U.S.

If the Supreme Court accepts the 6th Circuit’s holding, the citizenship of naturalized Iranian Americans could potentially be targeted by overzealous officials if they can find evidence of minor misstatements during the naturalization process.

Through this action, NIAC is taking a stand with other organizations that are committed to protecting the diversity, civil rights, and tolerance that are core American values. These values are under assault and many members of our community are particularly vulnerable.

Other organizations that signed include the Southern Poverty Law Center, National Council of Jewish Women, National Association of Social Workers, Council on American Islamic Relations, HIAS Pennsylvania, League of Women Voters US, and the Hispanic National Bar Association.




NIAC Calls for Grace Period on Inhumane Trump Ban

Contact: Jamal Abdi

Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council issued the following statement calling for a grace period on President Trump’s ban on nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen so that they can be reunited with their families:

With more and more reports of visa holders and lawful permanent residents being detained at U.S. airports, the horrific nature of Trump’s Muslim ban is fully apparent for the entire world to see. Families are being ripped apart without warning and with no assurance of when they will be reunited. Students traveling abroad at the time of the ban are horrified that they might not be able to return to continue their studies. Children are being detained along with their parents when they were just seeking to return home. This is a dark day in the history of this country.

If the Trump administration has any shred of humanity and decency, it will institute a grace period without delay in order to enable all lawful permanent residents, dual nationals and visa holders from Iran and the other targeted countries to return to the United States to reunite with their families and return to their daily lives. Anything less is a complete disgrace.

NIAC will continue to fight to overturn this unjust and inhumane ban on Iranians and other nationals.