September 20, 2010, Washington, D.C. - In 2007, an Iranian student at Stanford University lost a sister-in-law in a fight with cancer. At the time, her brother, his wife, and their new-born child lived in Vancouver, Canada, a mere two hour flight from her California residence. However, due to the nature of visas granted to Iranian students, she could not risk a trip abroad to visit her family. “To me, making the decision to go out of the United States is basically equivalent to answering this question: am I able to handle my studies and research from outside America if I go out and my clearance doesn’t come on time?” Unfortunately for her and many other Iranian students the answer is no.
For many young Iranians, being granted the opportunity to attend college or university in the United States is a dream come true. However, the vast majority of Iranian students who are awarded the opportunity to study in the United States receive single-entry F-1 visas. What this means is that Iranian students who come to America to study have to renew their visa every time they leave the United States throughout the duration of their studies (i.e. holidays, academic conferences, family emergencies). Often times this is a lengthy process with no guarantee that their visas will be renewed.
So why is it that Iranians granted F-1 student visas seem to only receive single-entry visas while students from some other countries receive multiple entry visas? In general, visa restrictions are based on citizenship. Ultimately, every person is a citizen of a country and the passport they hold is a document of that country. The United States typically negotiates different entry and time stipulations with foreign governments based on their treatment of American citizens. According to the Department of State, the purpose for such reciprocity agreements is to obtain visa regimes consistent with national interests, laws and regulations, and to encourage international travel that benefit American citizens and the economy. In the case where the United States does not have diplomatic relations with a particular government, visa schedules are set on the foundation of reciprocity, and try to match as closely as possible, the visa regimes that those countries apply to American citizens.
Currently, Iranian nationals can obtain visas that are valid for three months and allow single-entry into the United States (likewise, a three-month visa applies to an American traveling to Iran). Chad and Afghanistan receive the same reciprocity. Furthermore, Iranian nationals are subject to security clearance procedures that can delay visa process times by up to six months. Iranian students are required to go through security clearance each time they travel outside the United States. Read more...