A policy banning Iranian citizen’s admission into the graduate fields of mechanical and nuclear engineering or programs containing nuclear content was installed by Virginia Commonwealth University and then briskly retracted upon criticism from the National Iranian American Council last month.
The NIAC contacted VCU in a letter to President Rao persuading him to reverse the policy following the reversal of a similar policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in February.
The NIAC expressed its concerns late last February that VCU was also misinterpreting and unduly enforcing a U.S. sanctions law that was passed in 2012 against Iranian citizens.
“We fear that this policy is based on a flawed interpretation of the relevant U.S. law (and) in adopting an overbroad policy, VCU risks setting a harmful precedent that undermines productive academic exchanges between the United States and Iran and potentially violates protections against discrimination on the basis of national-origin.” wrote NIAC policy director Jamal Abdi.
The Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Human Rights Act of 2012 states that the Secretary of State shall deny a visa to any alien who is a citizen of Iran that the Secretary of State determines seeks to enter the United States to participate in course work at an institution of higher education to prepare the alien for a career in the energy sector of Iran or in nuclear science or nuclear engineering or a related field.
Saman Raftari, Iranian-American senior biology student at VCU, feels that it is imperative that people realize the U.S. sanctions are not hurting the Iranian government as much as they are hurting average Iranians.
In addition Raftari mentioned that many people do not know the history of relations between Iran and the U.S. and therefore cannot see past this hostile view towards Iranians that the U.S. government has created when thinking about Iranian nuclear capability.
“It’s kind of contradictory to the position and perspective that a University should have in being forward thinking as well as being a catalyst for learning and dispelling myths about people,” Raftari said. “Like those that are placed on Iranian Americans. Personally I feel it is severely racist and I am very disappointed.”
Raftari was following the events at UMass Amherst when he learned that VCU was implementing the same exclusionary policies toward Iranians.
He said this especially infuriated him because nowhere in the sanctions law did it require the universities to install a discriminatory blanket of exclusion towards Iranians.
Critics say that the language of this law is broad and does not require universities to implement the sanctions on their own; it is up to U.S. State Department and Department of Homeland Security.
An article published in February by The Boston Globe cites un-named official, who was quoted as saying, “All visa applications are reviewed individually in accordance with the requirements of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act and other relevant laws that establish detailed standards for determining eligibility for visas and admission to the United States.”
The official goes on to state, “U.S. law does not prohibit qualified Iranian nationals coming to the United States for education in science and engineering.”
VCU and the engineering department gave no further comments on its decision to implement the policy and or then reverse.
At the end of the first letter sent from the NIAC to Rao the organization states that it is “prepared to engage with the university and offer our support in seeking a quiet resolution to this issue.”
Raftari was interviewed by VCU InSight last week about this same incident and his interviews were to be broadcast that week. According to him, he was later contacted by his connection to VCU InSight and was told the broadcast would not air.
“Just the fact that they’re being very hush-hush about it throws me off,” Raftari said. “It makes me feel very distrustful toward Rao and those who are making these huge decisions to ban an entire of nationality of people from a program should have announced it to the public. The reason I think they didn’t is because it doesn’t reflect what the VCU community would want.”
Prior to its recent revision, the VCU Graduate Admissions page stated that “VCU regrets to inform you that we are not able to admit Iranian citizens in the graduate fields of mechanical and nuclear engineering or in programs that have nuclear content.”
Excerpts of Rao’s response to the NIAC concerns are featured in the NIAC’s March 24 press release.
Rao stated that VCU would work to resolve this issue and remove the policy language that suggested it would exclude Iranian citizens from entering into certain graduate programs and would now link directly to the State Department’s visa information homepage.