Two UC San Diego graduate students were prohibited from starting classes this quarter after the U.S. State Department revoked their previously approved student visas. According to The New York Times, roughly a dozen Iranian students planning on studying engineering and computer science at the University of California system were turned away from entering the United States this fall.
In late August, the State Department, without explanation, unexpectedly revoked the incoming students’ visas, but most of the students were unaware until they were already en route to the United States. Some were able to board their initial flight while others were turned away at their connecting flight in a different country.
One of the UCSD students facing this issue is an incoming Electrical Engineering graduate student, Peyman, who asked The New York Times not to include his last name out of fear of jeopardizing his chances of getting a new visa.
“I feel I’m damaged emotionally, financially, and academically,” Peyman told the The New York Times. Peyman was set to start classes this fall but was sent home due to visa issues during his connecting flight in Qatar.
The U.S. State Department declined to comment on individual visa cases, stating that they are confidential under federal law.
“International students are a priority for the Department of State, and we continue to welcome legitimate student visa applicants,” said a department official to The Triton. “Visas may be denied only on grounds set out in U.S. law. Visa applicants are continuously screened, both at the time of their application and afterwards, to ensure they remain eligible to travel to the United States.”
The United States’ unexpected denial of the Iranian student visas came within days of the U.S. State Department’s announcement on August 28, placing sanctions on nine entities and individuals for their connection to the Iranian government’s military and energy sector. Additionally, according to a 2012 law, Iranian students seeking a visa can be denied outright if their field of study permits them to work within the energy or nuclear sector.
Students are one of the few groups exempted from the Trump administration’s 2017 travel ban, but Iranians seeking to study in the United States still face additional hurdles and costs. Students must travel to nearby countries such as Turkey or Armenia in order to interview and complete the visa process since the United States does not maintain a consulate in Iran.
Once a student completes their visa application and interviews, they must wait anywhere from two weeks to a full year, often without update or explanation. If their student visa is approved, it will usually only allow a single entry into the United States, so students must forgo family visits while enrolled in an American university.
While lengthy wait times are common, Iranian students at UCSD told The Triton that visas being revoked at the “last minute” is a new issue within the community.
One member of the UCSD Iranian student community, who asked for their name to be withheld due to fear of risking future visa approval, told The Triton that they have been tracking visa issues for the past eight years, and this particular situation is unprecedented. The student has navigated the visa process more than once, including one summer in which they left the country while awaiting visa renewal. While their plan was to come back to the United States as soon as possible, it took the State Department six months to approve their visa. They missed two full academic quarters before being allowed reentry.
The Iranian student told The Triton that while they were stuck abroad, they were well supported by UCSD, their professor, and the International Students & Programs Office.
“This [support] has changed since I arrived, in 2015, maybe because there were less Iranian students,” said the student. “The special needs of Iranian students were very unknown to the UCSD International Center, but recently they know a lot of the challenges we go through and they do their best.”
The UCSD Director of International Students & Programs Office, Dulce Dorado, told The Triton in an email that the office has sent letters of support for visa renewal for the two affected students. Director Dorado hopes that they will be able to begin their studies in Winter Quarter 2020.
A member of the Iranian Student Association (ISTA), who has been in touch with both of the Iranian students from UCSD whose visas were revoked, said that while the visa process can be long and difficult, Iranian students are still willing to go through the long and uncertain process, due to the expectation of a better education in the United States.
“There are not as many good schools in other countries as there is in the [United States],” said the ISTA member.
Jules Brütsch is a Staff Writer for The Triton. You can follow her @BruetschJules.