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August 12, 2010

Iranian Students Face Hardships at Home, Obstacles in the U.S.

On Monday, the NY Times published an article discussing the rising number of Iranians seeking to study int he US and the hardships they encounter in the process of applying for U.S student visa’s.  The piece suggests that more Iranians are coming to the U.S. to study because of repression at home, where Iranian students who express their political views are blacklisted from universities and forced to continue their education abroad. But troubles for Iranian students continue once they have left, since  the U.S. only permits Iranian students to obtain single-entry visas, meaning students are unable to leave the U.S. at any point during their studies–which in some cases can be for up to a decade–even for academic conferences or to visit sick family members.
It is mind boggling that the White House has procrastinated so long to alter the single-entry student visa policy vis-à-vis Iran. I say mind boggling because Washington is allowing its political confrontation to impact academic and cultural exchanges with Tehran.  A common excuse cited by the State Department to justify its single-entry policy is predicated on the principle of “reciprocity” –which is supposed to replicate the student visa procedures of the country with which we have no diplomatic relations. But ironically, Iran’s student visa posture actually allows foreigners to study in Iran without the single-entry restrictions that Washington has imposed on Iranian students. It is regrettable that the White House, which has the authority to change this burdensome policy, is managing to perpetuate a bitter divide that only exasperates tensions and limits the possibility of cultural and academic dialogue between our two nations.
Iranian students already face serious obstacles from their government to study in the west. For example, Iran’s Minister of Health, Marzieh Dastjerdi has announced that the new restrictions will apply to students seeking to study in Britain and the United States. Dastjerdi’s announcement is in line with the Supreme Leader’s wish to discourage any study abroad program that exposes Iranian students to western educational institutions. One may ask why the Ayatollah would be so afraid if Iranian students studied in Europe or the U.S. And perhaps, the best answer is that those who travel abroad may better realize how their system of governance is so authoritarian and repressive that it will entice them to demand for change.
It is in our interest to open our doors to ambitious Iranian students who desire to receive the best education the world can offer. Such an opportunity can usher a new prosperous phase in citizen diplomacy, and more importantly, would create a bridge between our cultures that will overcome decades of animosities and misconceptions.
Therefore, it is very disconcerting to learn that Washington’s reciprocity principle is based on mirroring the Islamic Republic’s indignant policy toward Iranian students which is detrimental to the advancement of human rights and democracy in Iran.

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