Northwestern student from Iran barred from entering country after visa cancelled


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

The Office of International Student and Scholar Services. The University sponsors over 6,500 students and scholars on F-1 or J-1 visas, according to the public comment signed by President Schapiro and Provost Hagerty.

Alan Perez, Reporter

A Northwestern student from Iran is missing school this fall after being turned away when he tried to board a flight on his way to Illinois.

The student, whose name has not been made public, was informed that his F-1 student visa was revoked, despite being approved this past summer. Northwestern said it “engaged” an immigration attorney, who initiated a new visa application but is waiting to hear back with a result.

It’s unclear why his visa was revoked. A State Department spokesperson, who did not did not respond to a question about whether a policy change had taken effect, said “student visa application numbers are subject to a wide variety of factors and are seasonal in nature.”

“As we have always noted, we subject each visitor to the United States, including student visa applicants, to wide ranging screening and vetting to ensure the safety of the American people,” the spokesperson said.

The student seems to be yet another victim of souring tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Earlier this year, the two countries were on the brink of war after Iran, in retaliation for the detention of an Iranian supertanker, seized a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

The Iranian student seems to be one of about 20 whose visas were cancelled in early September. They reportedly all attended Sharif and Tehran universities and were headed to prestigious schools across the U.S., including Stanford University and the University of California.

One of the students, Nima Abdollahpour, an incoming graduate student to UC Davis, said he and others were never told why their visas were cancelled. “No one tells us what is wrong,” he told the Davis Enterprise.

The National Iranian American Council said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned” with the reports of sudden visa cancellations, which are rare for visas that have already been issued and usually don’t occur at the last minute.

“NIAC calls on the Trump Administration to provide a full and transparent accounting of what is behind these recent actions and whether a new policy has been put in place,” the statement read.

A 2012 law enacted under President Barack Obama denies visas to Iranian students whose academic program would prepare the “for a career in Iran’s energy or nuclear sectors,” though consular offices have discretion over interpretation of the law. The NU student’s course of study is unknown.

Thirty-six Northwestern students came from Iran last academic year, according to the University’s international office, a slight decrease from a peak of 44 in 2015. Nationwide, Iranian students have made up a growing population of foreign-born students in the U.S. after sanctions against the country were lifted following the 2015 nuclear deal, in which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear technology.

But relations between Washington and Tehran have spiraled since President Trump pulled out of the nuclear agreement in 2018. He also imposed a travel ban on seven countries, most of them Muslim-majority, including Iran.

Most Iranians can’t get visas to travel to the U.S. because of the ban, though exemptions apply for students. But most are only given single-entry visas and have to go years without returning to their home country.

The Northwestern student applied for another F-1 visa, currently in “administrative processing,” said University spokesman Bob Rowley, which means the U.S. consulate is conducting additional “checks” on the application.

“It isn’t clear if the checks are in response to the visa revocation or if they are the standard checks that many visa applicants have to go through,” he said. “The attorney is still working on the case and we expect this to continue until the case comes to a conclusion, hopefully with a positive result.”

Since the Trump administration tightened rules on student visas, international students have faced more barriers in the immigration process. Stricter guidelines on policies like accrual of unlawful stay have made some feel uneasy.

Chinese students are facing particularly scrutiny, with one White House official having suggested a total ban on students from the country. This summer, the Chinese education ministry warned its citizenship about studying in the U.S. after learning that visa applications were being restricted, prompting Northwestern to issue a statement of support for Chinese students.

Though students have reported greater delays, Iranian student seems to be the only one who has been denied entry to the country. Rowley said the University is not aware of others who have had their visas revoked.

Northwestern hopes the student will re-enter school in the winter.

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