NIAC Seeks Swift Resolution of Sanctions Hurdle for Iranian Doctors in U.S. and Canada

 
Press Release - For Immediate Release

 

 

Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council issued the following statement regarding the decision of the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (“ECFMG”) to suspend the processing of requests to verify educational credentials of Iranian physicians seeking to study or work in the United States:

We have received a number of inquiries relating to the ECFMG decision and are deeply concerned by this development and its impact on Iranians and Iranian Americans. NIAC is urgently working to foster a resolution to this pressing issue. Until this situation is resolved, Iranian doctors cannot take exams, seek residency, or practice medicine in the U.S.

NIAC is seeking an explanation from ECFMG as to the specific basis for its decision and conducting outreach to the U.S. State Department and the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) to resolve the issue. NIAC urges U.S. authorities to provide quick guidance to ECFMG so as to permit it to continue processing such requests.

NIAC looks forward to an expeditious and satisfactory resolution of this situation. We note, however, that so long as the comprehensive U.S. trade embargo with Iran remains in effect, problems like these will continue to arise for Iranians and Iranian Americans.

ECFMG is a private non-profit organization that certifies and evaluates the qualifications of international medical graduates entering the U.S. to provide medical services. ECFMG performs this role by “verify[ing] the authenticity of credentials related to physicians’ medical education, training, and registration/licensure directly with the institutions that issued the credentials.” For physicians from Iran, this means contacting and interacting with Iranian educational and medical institutions to authenticate physicians’ credentials.

Due to apparent concerns over the permissibility of such interactions under U.S. law, ECFMG has suspended “processing requests to verify credentials issued by institutions in Iran,” until such time as U.S. regulatory authorities provide guidance as to the legality of its interactions with Iranian institutions.

This has created significant problems for Iranian physicians seeking to authenticate their credentials so as to practice medicine in the United States. This problem is compounded by the fact that the Medical Council of Canada (“MCC”) utilizes ECFMG to verify the credentials of Iranian physicians; and, as a result, MCC has also suspended processing requests to verify Iranian physicians’ credentials from Iranian institutions as of last month.

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Following Outcry at UMass Amherst, Another U.S. University Revises Policy on Iranian Students

Washington, DC – In response to outreach from the National Iranian American Council, one more university is taking steps to ensure that its enforcement of sanctions and other restrictions against Iran do not unduly discriminate against Iranian students.

Following up on a successful campaign to help press the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass-Amherst) to reverse an exclusionary policy towards students of Iranian descent, NIAC contacted Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) regarding a policy that appeared to block Iranians from certain programs. VCU has responded and demonstrated that it is taking action to correct the issue.

NIAC wrote to VCU President Michael Rao to express concern with language on VCU’s Graduate Admissions webpage stating that the university barred Iranian citizens from admission “in the graduate fields of mechanical and nuclear engineering or in programs that have nuclear content.” NIAC’s letter questioned whether the adoption of this policy was based on a flawed understanding of relevant U.S. law and urged VCU to overturn the unnecessarily discriminatory policy. NIAC urged that the issue be examined and offered its support in addressing the policy.

VCU’s President Rao responded to NIAC’s letter, indicating that the university would work to resolve the issue. President Rao wrote that the school decided to remove policy language suggesting it would deny Iranian citizens entry into certain graduate programs and would now link directly to the State Department’s visa information homepage. Moreover, President Rao suggested that the university is working with outside legal counsel “to develop appropriate guidance for [VCU] so that the opportunities for students from countries under State Department restrictions are maximized to the fullest extent.” President Rao also emphasized that VCU has “many valued and successful Iranian students…, including many in [VCU’s] School of Engineering.”

Under current law, persons from Iran on a student visa are authorized “to carry out in the United States those activities for which such a visa has been granted by the U.S. State Department…” However, a sanctions bill passed in 2012 requires the State Department to deny student visas to an Iranians pursuing studies for a “career in the energy sector of Iran or in nuclear science or nuclear engineering or a related field in Iran.” The provision has been a major source of confusion for universities, some of whom have unnecessarily read this provision as an obligation imposed upon the schools themselves and have thus restricted their educational offerings to Iranian students. NIAC will continue to provide clarification as to the applicable law to these schools, but issues like this are likely to arise until such time as sanctions on Iran are lifted.

Nonetheless, VCU’s decision is testament to the tremendous work of all groups, including students on campus at UMass-Amherst who successfully fought back against the discriminatory policy there. The outcry over UMass Amherst’s decision to bar Iranian citizens from certain programs had the effect of warning off other universities from adopting similar policies and certainly played a significant role in VCU’s decision to resolve concerns about its own policy. The episode is further evidence of the enormous value of Iranian Americans engaging in civic life and playing a role in shaping the policies that affect them.  NIAC will continue to follow-up with and assist VCU in narrowly tailoring its policies regarding non-U.S. Iranian citizens to meet the demands of relevant U.S. law.