U.S.-Iran relations affect Iranian students.

Varad Diwate

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s phone call with President Barack Obama was seen as a positive step between the two countries after decades of stagnant relations. Change in status quo could potentially affect students from Iran studying in the United States.

Last year Iowa State had 32 graduate students enrolled from Iran. Until recently, Iranian students had a different set of rules for re-entry.

Until 2011, Iranian students were issued single-entry visas, which did not permit them to go back home during their coursework. Since then, students involved in nonsensitive, nontechnical fields of study and research are issued two-year multiple-entry visas.

“If the relationship and visa processing gets better, that would be advantageous to students at Iowa State and other U.S. universities,” said Sina Safayi, postdoctoral research associate at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Originally from Iran, Safayi started working at Iowa State last year. He said the current rules also make it difficult for families to visit students here.

To begin with, there is no U.S. Embassy in Iran. A virtual embassy was established in 2011 to help with communication for Iranians who want to visit the United States. It was soon blocked by Iran’s Internet censors.

Students have to visit neighboring countries and get a visa from a U.S. embassy in that country. They often have to seek visas for the neighboring countries as well. Safayi said this is often a long and expensive process.

The closest countries with U.S. embassies include countries in the former Soviet Union such as Tajikistan or Uzbekistan, Turkey, Cyprus and United Arab Emirates.

 Obama signed a law last year that states Iranian citizens are ineligible to study coursework in petroleum engineering, nuclear science, nuclear engineering or a related field for a career in Iran.

 “I have heard stories of many people who couldn’t get to their universities in time, they lost their status at the universities and they had to start with the process all over again.” Safayi said.

Safayi said any improvement in the visa system can be advantageous to Iranian students and faculty at Iowa State. He also said it can help with scientific and academic output at other U.S. universities as well.

The visa policy is a sign of the kind of relationship shared by the two countries. The United States has continued trade and military sanctions against Iran since 1995.

Currently, both the countries do not have any formal diplomatic relations. The relationship has been hostile since the Islamic Revolution.

Before the revolution in 1979, a CIA-MI6 coup had overthrown Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and installed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as the Shah.

Iran had close ties with the United States during the reign of the Shah. Diplomatic exchanges have been informal and at lower-level for most part.

After the phone call with Rouhani, Obama said at a news briefing in September that the conversation “underscores the deep mistrust between our countries but also indicates the prospect of moving on that difficult history.”

Safayi said the image of the United States in the media attracts students to come here. However, the long and difficult process also discourages students to apply for U.S. universities making them look for options in other countries.