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 info@niacouncil.org 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.

 

Stories & Insight One Year into Trump’s Muslim Ban

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: (206) 369-2069
Email: Jamal@niacaction.org

January 27, 2018, marks the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban that remains in place today. The Iranian-American community has been particularly impacted by this ban, with 62% of the non-immigrant visas typically issued to countries on Trump’s list going to Iranians.

The next week is an excellent opportunity to evaluate the continued impact of the ban and the prospects for overturning it when it comes before the Supreme Court this spring or at the ballot box during the Congressional mid-term elections in November. NIAC Action legal, legislative, and community experts are available for comment.

We have included key resources below including stories of those impacted by the ban, an overview of how the ban has been implemented and details on efforts to overturn the ban:

Stories from Iranian Americans on the Continued Impact of the Ban:

“My wife is finally pregnant after 8 years. My mother in law couldn’t wait to see her grandchild, but with Muslim ban 3.0, she has no chance.”

    -Mahdi
 

“I sit in my lab at university everyday, thinking why my mom and I are being punished for the crimes we’ve never committed?! In what world anyone has the right to separate a daughter from her mom for 5 years?”

    -Sara
 

“I can’t hold back my tears when I’m asked by colleagues: “what are you doing for the holidays?” I can’t travel back home because I won’t be able to come back to the U.S. due to the new travel ban. On top of that, my parents whom I have not seen for 3 years, cannot obtain a visa to come visit me. This separation is unnecessary and unfair.”

    -Maral

I lost my father, the only family I had after losing both my mother and only young brother to cancer. My father died of a broken heart, after 16 months of waiting for a visa, he had given up hope that we were ever going to be together again.

I strongly believe my rights were violated not only in the first place when my father went to the U.S. Embassy, but also over and over again during this last 16 months until he died. 

My father died from disappointment and depression. I clearly stated my situation and the hardship we went through in my letters to Congressman, the White House, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy. I also clearly stated my frustration at the neglecting of my father’s case with them, but they did nothing to help us. I strongly believe that they are responsible for all the hardships and grief my father went through, and also his death. I strongly believe my basic right to have my father in my home was subjected to political matter, hatred and discrimination. I don’t doubt that there are many others whose hopes have been dashed by what I perceive to be an uncaring, unfeeling bureaucracy.

-Mania
 

“My 73 year old dad is suffering from heart disease, stares at my 3 year old son with a mixture of enthusiasm and sorrow. While he tries to take a look at my son through my cell phone camera, I cry deep inside and curse myself for having to leave them for hope of a better life for my kids living in freedom. My parents may live and die without having their children and grandkids around. This is the price I am paying to be in land of freedom and opportunity.”

    -Sanaz
 

“My husband is Iranian, and is now a U.S. citizen. I was born and raised in America, and I’m a current military service member. We are recently married, and we had a destination wedding in Mexico due to the Muslim Ban. We knew there was no way my husband’s entire family would get tourist visas approved to come to our wedding in America, so we decided on a wedding in Mexico. The Mexican embassy in Tehran was great to work with. They were prompt, friendly, and fair. Now that we are back home in the States, it breaks my heart that I do not know when I will see half of my family again. What if we have kids? Since we are recently married, this is something we have been talking about a lot. Do we want to bring children into the world that may never know one set of their grandparents due to our president and administration being racist? Who will help us with childcare and life in general, as many grandparents do? As an Airman, I fight for the rights of everyone in this country. The fact that our president is taking them away everyday because of his misinformed, racist agenda breaks my heart. Will I ever see my sister again? Or brother? How has Congress let him get away with this time and time again?”

– Jennifer

The Legal Implications of the Ban:

The National Iranian American Council has been involved in two lawsuits to defeat all three versions of Trump’s ban. There was little doubt then that Trump’s Order “drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination,” and there remains little doubt a year later:

  • While Trump’s lawyers have not yet won on the merits, the fact that the ban has been allowed to go into force means that impacted communities cannot rely on the Supreme Court alone to strike down the ban.
  • Dating back for over 40 years, no national from the targeted countries has ever killed anyone in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil;
     
  • The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis has confirmed that nationality is a poor predictor of terror threat;
     
  • The criteria used to justify the new proclamation were applied arbitrarily, not in an objective manner as the Trump administration has asserted;
     
  • The ban will impact more Iranians and Iranian Americans than any other group on the restricted countries list. National Iranian American Council’s analysis predicts that Muslim Ban 3.0 will disproportionately impact Iranians with 62% of those potentially impacted being Iranian nationals, according to 2016 State Department data;
     
  • Even when the Muslim ban has not been in effect, it has applied “Extreme Vetting” measures that have resulted in a dramatic decline in visa issuance to the targeted Muslim-majority countries.

 
Legislative and Political Efforts to Overturn the Ban:

Witnesses Paint Dual Nationals as Terror Threat at Congressional Hearings

New restrictions barring certain dual nationals from visiting the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program “feel like discrimination,” said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), speaking at a Congressional hearing on the new visa law last week. “There’s a category of millions of Americans, freedom-loving Americans, that could be exposed to discrimination as a result merely of who their parents were,” he observed. Massie, who recently introduced legislation to repeal the dual national restrictions, was joined by a few of his colleagues in expressing concern about the new restrictions. However, much of the two House hearings on the implementation of H.R. 158, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act, focused on accusations that the Obama Administration was not enforcing the new restrictions stringently enough.

Two non-governmental witnesses — one from the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and the other from the far-right Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) — cast dual nationals, including Iranian Americans specifically, as a security threat deserving of travel restrictions. In her testimony, Jessica Vaughan of CIS took issue with NIAC Action’s argument that the new restrictions were discriminatory and in line with the inflammatory rhetoric from Donald Trump. Instead, Vaughan suggested that all dual nationals should be suspected of dual loyalty:

“The real issue here is dual nationality, not ‘second-class citizenship.’ The fact is that people who retain more than one nationality are indicating that they have not fully renounced their allegiance to their country of origin despite attaining citizenship in another country. Some people have dual nationality for sentimental reasons, others for the convenience of having multiple passports, and some do it to facilitate illicit activity, including espionage and terror. But it is fundamentally a personal choice.”

Dr. Emanuele Ottolenghi of FDD claimed that Iranian dual nationals should be considered security threats – highlighting the Iranian-American used car dealer convicted of plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador. He then suggested all dual nationals were suspect, outlining cases of several Lebanese dual nationals associated with Hezbollah who planned attacks overseas. Curiously, none of the dual nationals linked to terror that were cited by Ottolenghi in his defense of profiling would have actually been barred from traveling without a visa under the new restrictions.

Much of the comments from lawmakers were focused on the Obama administration’s use of a broad waiver in the legislation to exempt certain individuals from the visa restrictions, including aid workers and individuals who have traveled to Iran to conduct business under the nuclear accord. The title of one hearing even claimed that the waivers were issued to “appease” Iran. Vaughan said that activism within the Iranian-American community may have convinced the administration to utilize the waivers, though the waivers issued thus far do not exempt Iranian dual nationals or persons who have traveled to Iran to visit family, as tourists, or for academic purposes. 

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) claimed the administration’s use of the waiver was illegal. However, the State Department’s Hillary Batjer Johnson patiently explained, “The law grants the Secretary of Homeland Security the authority to waive the travel or dual nationality restrictions if he determines that such a waiver is in the law enforcement or national security interest of the United States.” McCaul acknowledged that the waiver is included in the law but stuck to his main point of contention that the administration had requested explicit exceptions in the text of the bill itself during negotiations on the bill, which had been rejected by lawmakers.

Following the over-the-top rhetoric of many of his colleagues, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) injected some levity into the hearing by jokingly asking the government witnesses whether they were part of some secret conspiracy to allow terrorists to come into the United States. Connolly also highlighted the concern felt by many of his constituents who were “apoplectic” about the application of this law because they feel they are “unwitting victims” based on their national background. 

Other lawmakers, however, appeared to have little grasp of how the Visa Waiver Program operates. Among them, Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK) suggested that British citizens traveling to Iran for business would be treated more favorably than those traveling to Malaysia because of the waivers. However, unlike travel to Iran, there were never any restrictions on citizens of VWP countries who traveled to Malaysia to begin with. Russell left the hearing still opposed to the use of any waivers.

UM Amherst

NIAC Applauds UMass Policy Reversal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jamal Abdi 
Phone: 202-386-6408
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) welcomes the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s decision today to reverse its policy to ban Iranian students from certain fields and looks forward to learning more about its new approach. NIAC President Trita Parsi released the following statement:

“Sanctions have caused many problems, but they are not an excuse to discriminate against Iranian students. UMass has done the right thing to correct its mistake and we look forward to learning full details about how its new policy will ensure Iranian students are not discriminated against.

“We sympathize with the burdens that the sanctions have imposed on academic institutions and hope that eventually these measures are lifted.  Broad sanctions have punished many unintended victims but today’s action ensures that further pain will not be passed onto young Iranians who aspire to study in American universities.

“NIAC congratulates the UMass students and faculty who successfully raised objections to this policy and appreciates the efforts of the State Department and Treasury Department for working with the school directly to address this issue.

“NIAC has worked to resolve the impact of sanctions on Iranian students many times in the past, including when TOEFL tests were suspended for Iranians, online courses were restricted for people inside Iran, and in the effort to secure multiple-entry student visa privileges for Iranians. We are pleased to have played a role in ensuring this latest problem was addressed.

“Ultimately, these issues will not go away until broad sanctions are lifted. We hope that diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran can succeed in eventually achieving this. In the meantime, we will continue to work to prevent sanctions from punishing ordinary Iranians and Iranian Americans.”

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