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Building on the Student Visa Victory: the Work and Opportunities Ahead

Analysis by Jamal Abdi, National Iranian American Council (NIAC)

Last week, in a culmination of steadfast efforts by NIAC, the Iranian-American community, and the Iranian student organization MEVISA, the Obama Administration announced that Iranian students are now eligible to receive multiple entry visas.

This is a profound example of how, in the absence of sweeping solutions in U.S.-Iran policy, there remain seemingly small but immensely important steps the U.S. can take to build goodwill with the Iranian people.

We had urged President Obama to start with visas. And last week, he did.

Now, even as we celebrate this significant accomplishment, there remains much to be done. In addition to resolving outstanding questions about the visa fix, further opportunities lie ahead for the U.S. to stand with the Iranian people and build on the goodwill and positive momentum of the visa fix.

On the visa issue, NIAC is continuing its work to ensure the new visa policy is carried out in the best possible manner. The State Department has said that only students working in “non-sensitive, non-technical” fields of study and research may obtain a multiple entry visa. They have since clarified that this means fields that “do not contribute to the Iranian government’s proliferation activities,” but we are seeking greater specificity to ensure that this policy is not implemented in a way that needlessly prevents Iranian students from obtaining multiple-entry visas.

We are also working on issues regarding Iranian students already studying in the U.S. on a single-entry visa. The State Department has said: “Iranians currently in the United States on a three-month, single-entry visa in one of these categories must reapply outside the United States at a consular post in order to obtain two-year, multiple-entry visas.”

Unfortunately, this means Iranian students already here must leave the country, and take the risk of beginning a new the visa application process from scratch. This is another important reason that further clarification regarding the “non-sensitive, non-proliferation” requirement should be made public-to provide some degree of assurance to students who leave the country that they will not be blocked from obtaining the new visa. Additionally, NIAC is proposing other steps that can be taken by the U.S. government to help ameliorate the difficulties for students already in the U.S. seeking to obtain the new multiple-entry visa.

Moving forward, there are also new opportunities for us to pursue in order to build on the momentum of Obama’s goodwill gesture. One important step we are urging is for the President to utilize his humanitarian waiver authority to help prevent civilian aircraft crashes in Iran. Due in part to a U.S. embargo on aircraft parts and repairs, over 1,000 people have been killed in at Iranian plane crashes just this past decade-including earlier this year when seventy-seven passengers lost their lives in a Boeing 727 crash. The President has the power to change this.

In fact, President Obama notified Congress this past March that he intended to use his waiver to allow the licensing of repairs for fifteen faulty GE engines in Iran. While hawks in Congress like Rep. Brad Sherman and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen predictably pushed back against the President’s step, Obama should double down and enable the licensing of these parts and repairs. This would be another critical demonstration that, even as the U.S. has serious issues with Iran’s government, we have goodwill for Iran’s people.

Another immediate step that can be taken is for the U.S. to allow Iranians to access Internet services, software, and hardware. Satellite Internet, purchases of Skype credits, and hardware and software communication tools are all currently prohibited for Iranians due to U.S. sanctions. But the President-or perhaps even Congress-can take steps now to ease these restrictions. There is no time like the present to finally take action and ensure U.S. policies are not unintentionally stifling ordinary Iranians from accessing information and communicating freely.

By implementing the new visa policy, the President has the gratitude of young Iranians. Now that he has their attention, he must implement the policy as effectively as possible while seizing the moment to take further steps to stand with the Iranian people. These efforts can yield untold dividends. NIAC will continue to call for these important undertakings and utilize the same strategies that proved effective in changing student visa policy. We look forward to working with everyone who helped us change student visa policy to help ensure the President continues to keep the promise he made to Iranians this past Norooz that, “even as times are dark, I am with you.”

... Payvand News - 05/27/11 ... --

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