Iranian students are on edge after visas revoked

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Sassan Yousefi sitting outside a coffee shop at the USC Village. He is one of roughly 150 Iranian nationals studying at USC this year. Photo by Benjamin Gottlieb.

Sassan Yousefi walks gingerly along the red brick and concrete floors of the USC Village, a single crutch under his left arm. 

“You see my leg right there,” he says. “I was in a really bad bike accident. I was in a wheelchair for six months, and I had to have two surgeries.” 

Yousefi is from Iran and is studying construction management at USC. He has a green card, and even though he is on the mend, he says current U.S. policy has made his recovery difficult. 

“My mother wanted to come and help take care of me after my accident,” Yousefi says. “She went to the [U.S.] embassy in Dubai… she was approved. But then they asked for more information.”

Yousefi’s mother handed over what the embassy asked for, but nearly a year later, she has not received a reply. 

Yousefi’s story is just one of many examples of how Iranian students studying in California have been affected by Trump administration’s posture toward Iran, including the withdrawal from the nuclear deal, increased economic sanctions, and the travel ban.

Last month, nearly a dozen students with valid visas to study abroad were barred from coming to the United States. Most were enrolled in graduate programs at the University of California.

A spokesperson for the UC says the system is “concerned” about how much of its students could not travel to the US. He added, “We are doing everything we can for these students, including working with the U.S. State Department, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Capitol Hill to seek answers.”

The State Department says it does not comment on individual visa cases.

For Yousefi, he says the news is dissuading Iran’s brightest students from coming to the US in the future.

“These students are all very connected, so news travels fast,” he says. “The talk now is, ‘Oh, let’s go to Canada, let’s go to Germany.’ They’re looking at what else is out there.”

Jamal Abdi, president of the National Iranian American Council, worries about the economic and intellectual impact if Iranian students stop coming to study in the U.S.

“Some could argue that certain industries like Silicon Valley were built by immigrants from Iran who came here on student visas,” he says. “That pathway for Iranians to be able to come here as students is essentially being closed.”

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