By Kayvan Farchadi
June 29, 2011, Washington, D.C. – The Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA), in collaboration with the U.S. Department of the State, hosted two informative panel discussions on changes to visa validity for Iranian students. The purpose of the outreach events, co-sponsored with other Iranian American organizations, is to educate Iranian Americans and Iranian students about the changes to the student visa policy. The events were held at Stanford University on June 22nd and George Washington University on June 23rd.
The outreach events allowed for unique exchange of dialogue between university students, State Department officials, community leaders, and university administrators regarding the landmark announcement by the Obama administration that Iranian students and visitors are now eligible for two-year, multiple entry visas.
Under the old visa policy, Iranian students and individuals enrolled in academic or professional exchange programs were eligible for visas that were valid for three months and allowed a single-entry into the United States. The new guidelines pertain to Iranians and their dependents applying to study in “non-sensitive and non-technical fields.”
“These comments on the importance of engagement with Iranian students come directly from the President of the United States and the Secretary of State,” explained E. William Murad, Public Diplomacy Officer in the State Department’s Office of Iranian Affairs. He described, at both locations, the new visa policy for Iranians as, “one step forward in our President’s commitment to having a dialogue with the Iranian people.”
“I am humbled to see the effort and organization demonstrated by so many [stakeholders]… interested in the situation facing Iranian students,” said Dr. Mohammad Hafezi, Iranian Ph.D. graduate from Harvard University and former President of the MIT Iranian Studies Group.
The discussions held in both Stanford and George Washington Universities served to inform audience members about the nuances of the new visa policy and bring the community’s concerns and insights to the attention of State Department officials.
Several audience members in both locations inquired about what constitutes a “non-sensitive, non-technical” field of study or research. Mr. Murad explained that the new policy excludes fields that would contribute to Iran’s nuclear or weapons-related activities.
During the George Washington University session Stacie Hankins from the State Department’s Consular Affairs Office of Policy Coordination and Public Affairs explained that Iranian students should be as specific as possible when describing their field of study and its practical applications. “There is no fixed list of sensitive, technical fields that consular officers refer to,” Ms. Hankins said, “And I do not foresee the development of a list anytime in the near future.” The application of this policy is largely at the discretion of the individual consular officer. Ms. Hankins went on to explain that consular officers are generally, “looking to see that the applicant does not intend, at the time of their interview, to immigrate to the United States… [The ideal applicant] would intend to return to their home country to share their knowledge.” “Of course,” Ms. Hankins added, “we understand that situations can change over time.”
State Department officials at both locations praised Iranian students for their contributions to academia and for their role in changing the visa guidelines. Mr. Murad described Iranian students in the United States as “critical to the effort” of changing the longstanding policy.
PAAIA would like to thank the Department of State as well as our co-sponsors for participating in these important outreach sessions. Co-sponsors of the events included the Bechtel International Center at Stanford University, Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB), Iranian American Bar Association (IABA), National Iranian American Council (NIAC), Pars Equality Center, and Stanford University Persian Student Association.
Stanford University moderator and panelists included: Nahal Iravani-Sani, PAAIA Bay Area Chapter Leader; Brenda Grewe, Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs; and E. William Murad, Department of State, Office of Iran Affairs.
George Washington University moderator and panelists included: Banafsheh Akhlaghi, Co-Founder & President, Pars Equality Center; Ramin Asgard, Director, Voice of America’s Persian News Network; Susan J. D’Amico, Associate Director International Services Office George Washington University; Mohammad Hafezi, National Institute of Standard and Technology & University of Maryland; Stacie Hankins, Department of State, Consular Affairs Office of Policy Coordination and Public Affairs; and E. William Murad, Department of State, Office of Iran Affairs.
Additionally, PAAIA was proud to co-sponsor two information sessions with State Department officials in Southern California on June 20th at the University of California, Irvine and on June 21st at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
For more information on changes to Visa Validity for Iranian students, please click here.
Click here to view extended Visa Validity presentation from the Department of State.