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UMass Amherst Bans Iranian Students From Science, Engineering Studies

(UMass Amherst)

(UMass Amherst)

Two student groups have blasted an “outrageous” University of Massachusetts Amherst policy that bans Iranian students from enrolling in a wide range of science, engineering and technology courses due to US sanctions policy against the Islamic Republic.

Beginning on February 1, the prestigious university stopped admitting Iranians to various programs in the College of Engineering and College of Natural Sciences because of a law Congress enacted in 2012, MassLive.com reports.

Iranians seeking to study in the following College of Engineering departments can no longer do so: chemical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical and industrial engineering. In the College of Natural Sciences, the following fields are off limits: physics, chemistry, microbiology, and polymer science and engineering.

University spokesman Edward F. Blaguszewski said banning Iranian students is not a UMass policy, but rather a move to comply with United States government policy. UMass explained:

In August 2012, Congress enacted the ‘Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012,’ which excludes citizens of Iran from education in the United States if they plan to focus on nuclear and, more broadly, energy related research in Iran.

In July 2013, the US Department of Homeland Security… [stated] that Iranian citizens are ineligible for US visas if they are seeking to participate in higher education in preparation for a career in Iran’s petroleum, natural gas, nuclear energy, nuclear science, or nuclear engineering fields.

Additionally, Iranian citizens seeking to study in other fields, such as business, management or computer science, but who intend to use these skills in Iran’s oil, natural gas or nuclear energy sectors, are also ineligible for visas.

Indeed, the US law states that:

The Secretary of State shall deny a visa to, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall exclude from the United States, any alien who is a citizen of Iran that the Secretary of State determines seeks to enter the United States to participate in coursework at an institution of higher education…to prepare the alien for a career in the energy sector of Iran or in nuclear science or nuclear engineering or a related field in Iran.

But a State Department official told the Boston Globe that “US law does not prohibit qualified Iranian nationals coming to the United States for education in science and engineering,” and that “each application is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”

The Iranian Graduate Student Association and the Persian Student Association at UMass Amherst have created a Facebook page, “No to the UMass Educational Ban on Iranian Nationals,” dedicated to reversing the university’s decision, which they are calling “the unjust implementation of a policy at UMass Amherst to ban Iranian National students.” The hashtag #weareallumass was also trending on the university’s campus and beyond on Wednesday.

“We are in a state of distress, feel betrayed, and are worried for our friends and families who can no longer pursue their dreams of coming to America for an education,” the two student groups said in a joint statement on Tuesday. “Coming to America as an Iranian is already difficult, and now UMass has made it much more intricate, with little explanation. UMass Amherst is voluntarily punishing us as a collective, because of what our home government does. We strongly believe UMass Amherst’s recent policy implementation is arbitrary and discriminatory, and should not be tolerated.”

The student groups noted that 79 percent of Iranian students in the United States study natural sciences. Blaguszewski said there are currently 48 Iranians studying at UMass Amherst, out of a student body of around 28,635.

UMass doctoral student Nariman Mostafavi, who is from Iran, told MassLive.com that he views the exclusion policy as “very clearly discriminatory.”

“I understand that the American government wants to protect its citizens and they’re implementing all these rules to do that,” UMass PhD student Deniz Azarmanesh, also Iranian, told ABC40. “But I think it’s up to Homeland Security to do that, and not the university, to take such drastic measures.”

“We feel that it’s against the American spirit of freedom in education,” Amir Azadi, a member of the school’s Iranian Graduate Students Association, told the Globe.

The nonprofit advocacy group National Iranian American Council (NIAC) said on its website that it “is deeply concerned by the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s action and calls on the University to reverse its decision.”

“NIAC will be in contact with the school, relevant government agencies and Congress in the days ahead to see if we can find a resolution to this matter that does not disenfranchise Iranians,” the group added, noting that “there are many Iranian Americans who have dual American and Iranian citizenship. So is UMass going to reject American citizens from studying microbiology because they also have Iranian citizenship or force Iranian Americans to sign affidavits that they’re complying with sanctions? This gets messy very fast.”

According to NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi, Virginia Commonwealth University is the only other US university with a similar exclusionary policy targeting Iranians.

UPDATE: The Boston Globe reports UMass Amherst has reversed its controversial policy after consultation with the State Department.

“We have always believed that excluding students from admission conflicts with our institutional values and principles,” Michael Malone, vice chancellor for research and engagement, said in a statement. “It is now clear, after further consultation and deliberation, that we can adopt a less restrictive policy.”

“We are pleased to hear that the administration has heard our community’s voice regarding the new policy on Iranian nationals,” members of the Facebook group “No to the UMass Educational Ban on Iranian Nationals” said in a statement. “However … we want this policy reversed, not revised, and the language we are seeing … is not all-inclusive.”

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