We did it!

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) applauds the Obama Administration’s decision to repeal the Single-Entry Visa policy for Iranian students. The decision will expand opportunities for Iranians to study in the US at a time when record numbers of Iranian youth seek to escape repression in Iran.

“There are few better examples of how the United States can reach Iran’s youth than by increasing their opportunities for a brighter future,” said NIAC President Trita Parsi. “Despite the repression at home, Iranian students were reluctant to come to the US due to the Single-Entry Visa policy that forced them to chose between their education and their families.”

Under the Single-Entry Visa policy, Iranians students could not leave the US for the duration of their studies without losing their visa.

NIAC led the campaign to fix the Single-Entry Visa policy and to allow Iranian students to receive multiple entry visas, educating officials in the White House, State Department, and Congress about this issue. NIAC worked with Congress to require the White House to investigate how to expand the number and types of visas available to Iranian students–a measure that passed a critical Senate Committee vote last year but that has yet to be passed into law.

NIAC also organized meetings between Iranian Americans and their representatives in Congress on the topic, and NIAC members sent thousands of letters to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton calling for the policy to be changed.

Iranian students at American schools have often found that restrictions under the Single-Entry Visa policy cost them academic opportunities, cut them off from their families, and even prevented some students who left the country from finishing their studies. Students told NIAC of being unable to attend important academic conferences, being separated from family members in emergencies, missing the weddings of siblings, and not being able to see ill loved ones for a last time or to attend their funerals.

The burdens of the policy became particularly acute when visa security clearance processes for Iranians became more stringent in 2002. With lengthened wait times for visa processing and little guarantee that the process would yield success, Iranian students at American schools found it increasingly untenable to leave the US and risk being stuck in limbo for months or even never being able to return.

NIAC urged the US government to change the Single-Entry Visa Policy, especially as the number of Iranian students applying to American universities grew as a result of increased repression in Iran. Cases of blacklisting Iranian students from universities for allegedly participating in pro-democracy protests have steadily risen, and other repressive measures sponsored by the state have been taken against students. Iranian officials have sparred for control of private universities and the government has worked to stem dissent in schools by eliminating “western thought” in university curricula.

Last year, President Obama declared on the Iranian New Year, that the US would “sustain our commitment to a more hopeful future for the Iranian people…by increasing opportunities for educational exchanges so that Iranian students can come to our colleges and universities…”

Now the President has taken a major step to put his promise into action.

NIAC thanks all of its members and all those involved in helping make today’s change happen.

Jamal Abdi joined the National Iranian American Council as Policy Director in November 2009, directing NIAC’s efforts to monitor policies and legislation, and to educate and advocate on behalf of the Iranian-American community.

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