Azadeh has been in the U.S. for 3 years as a PhD student at the University of Maryland, during which time she hasn’t been able to see her family back in Iran.
Up until recently, Iranian students could only receive a single-entry visa, which meant their visa would allow them to enter the country one time only. If they left, they would have to reapply for a new visa.
“It’s been very tough for me,” she says. Throughout most of our previous conversation about applying to the U.S. and getting her visa she has been giggly and upbeat, but when we turn to this topic, it’s clear it hits home for her.
I know some people that changed their mind about coming to the U.S. just because of the visa issue. They never could imagine that they couldn’t come back even if something happened.
Azadeh tells me her parents have thought about coming to visit her in the U.S., but the family member she’s closest with is her sister, and it’s likely her sister would be refused the travel visa to come over.
If I cannot see her it doesn’t work for me. And she cannot come with my parents. There is a very high risk to all of them be refused, rejected getting a visa because of my younger sister that wants to come with them.
I give her a confused look, and Azadeh explains it’s because the visa officer might assume the family is trying to immigrate.
Making the change
The State Department announced in May that Iranian students would now be able to receive multiple-entry visas to study in the U.S. The EducationUSA Iran advisor, who joined Azadeh and me in our discussion about visas, says that after the announcement, EducationUSA received hundreds of emails from grateful Iranians.
But, “it doesn’t work for me,” Azadeh reminds us.
The multiple entry visa is a great change for incoming students, but Iranian students already in America face a dilemma – if they want the multiple entry visa, they must return home and apply for a new visa.
When I ask Azadeh whether she plans to do that, she and the advisor start discussing the pros and cons of making this move:
Azadeh: If I want to get to get my multiple entry visa I have to apply again for a visa. … And for that one, I have to stay for a long time to be cleared. And if it doesn’t clear, what’s going on, what happens to me?
Advisor: You can’t come back with one entry. That’s the problem.
Azadeh: I still don’t have the feeling I can go and visit my family. I haven’t met them for more than 3 years. I’m thinking about coming back home next summer, which is gonna be my 4th year and it’s going to be almost impossible to stay without seeing them. You know, it’s hard, but I’m so stressful about that process.
Advisor: Make sure you get a valid I-20, a new I-20. Make your schedule before you leave the United States so you have an interview date. And if you’re willing to take that risk, make sure you have enough time for the clearance.
But again, it’s a risk that the student if they are willing to take for a multiple-entry, they have to take that risk. There’s no guarantee.
Azadeh says she’s also worried about the conditions of the multiple entry visa. Only students in “nonsensitive, nontechnical fields” are eligible.
Azadeh: I also worry about some different issues that they have. Like, they talk about the sensitive majors or sensitive research areas. That makes me so uncomfortable because in engineering, if you’re doing electrical engineering, computer or mechanical engineering, everything that you’re doing can be used in another way. Everything can be risky, can be considered as sensitive.
Advisor: I’m pretty sure they will not issue or release any official list.
But for Iran the technical is fields that are in proliferation. So I would say nuclear physics is one of them, but you can do physics. … And also, even if you’re doing specific fields that they are in that physics, if you explain to the consular officer that you’re trying to do a certain research that has nothing to do with the proliferation, you may succeed.
But the technical – every field in engineering or even computer sciences can be considered technical. At the end of the day it depends on the judgment of the consular officer.
It’s not a perfect answer for Azadeh, who remembers waiting 3 months for her visa to be cleared the first time around. But she says she thinks she’s going to take the chance and apply for the new visa.
Besides allowing her to see her family, it would also help her in her education. She says with a multiple-entry visa “I feel more comfortable applying for conferences in Canada, Europe or every other country. I can easily go attend the conferences that I couldn’t go before.”
More changes to come
The advisor says the new multiple entry visas are part of a trend she’s seeing towards encouraging Iranian students to study in the U.S.:
What I know is that every year they’re trying to make it easier for students from Iran to go through the visa process. And the wait time although it’s now 2 weeks to several months for the clearance, they’re trying to make the scheduling of appointments for interview easier – they’re trying to facilitate a lot of it.
And the number of Iranian students in the U.S. has been increasing in recent years, which the advisor calls a “good and promising thing.”
“All the advising that you do to help students to come here, if they don’t get their visa doesn’t mean anything,” the advisor says. “They can get admitted to 10 great schools fully funded, if they don’t get the visa it doesn’t really count.”
[For some parts of our conversation not included here, check out the podcast of our chat on educationusairan.com]
Submit your own stories about education or studying in the US in the comments or using the form below.