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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Visa restrictions loom for foreign students Visa restrictions loom for foreign students (June 26, 2002)

New law will keep them from visiting home

by Don Kazak

A law passed this spring by Congress and signed by President Bush in May is going to keep some Stanford students from going home until their studies are complete, in some cases years from now.

The law, a post-Sept. 11 measure called the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform, prohibits people from seven countries on the "terrorist watch list" from visiting the United States unless they are immigrating. It also affects students on visas who are studying here.

The watch list includes Cuba, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Iraq and North Korea. While students from these countries may be rare, Stanford University does have students from Iran, which is the seventh nation on the list. For privacy reasons, the university declines to state how many Iranian nationals are Stanford students.

"We hope there will be little effect on students," said John Pearson, director of Stanford's International Center. Some students will have to undergo more extensive background checks, he said.

The Bush Administration has also taken an interest in what subjects students from those countries are studying here. "But they always had that interest," Pearson said.

Being an Iranian national and getting a visa to study in the United States wasn't easy before the new law was passed.

Reza Navid, an electrical-engineering graduate student, had planned to visit his family in Iran this fall after giving a paper at conference in Japan. He won't be able to do that now, and has to stay in the United States.

If he left, Navid said, he would have to enter a country neighboring Iran, visit the American consulate there, and apply for a new visa. That would take up to three months.

Getting here wasn't easy in the first place. Navid had to visit American consulates in three different countries back in 1999 before an American official in Damascus granted him a student visa.

Before the new law was passed, foreign students leaving the country merely had to go to the U.S. consulate in Mexico or Canada to get a new visa to re-enter the United States. They can't do that anymore.

"This makes it impossible to leave the country," he said.

There wasn't much debate about the new law. It was passed by the Senate unanimously and by the House 411-2. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, voted for the bill.

Navid, a graduate of the University of Tehran, is working with faculty members in both electrical engineering and physics. He wanted to give a paper about his work at a conference in Japan, and now one of his professors will have to do that in his absence. He said his faculty advisor, Bob Dutton, isn't happy about it.

Navid said that he thinks the new visa restrictions may be an overreaction by the U.S. government to the aftermath of Sept. 11. "Nothing is being done to Egyptians or Saudis," he said, and there were men from both countries on the Sept. 11 flights. "I don't understand the logic behind this," he added.

Navid eventually wants to live in Iran after he finishes his doctorate at Stanford. The Iranians in the Electrical Engineering Department are good students, he said. Thirteen Iranians took a qualifying examination last year, required of all first-year doctoral students. All 13 passed, with four ranked in the department's top 10 performers.

Ali Reza Alemozafar is an American with an Iranian father. Since he is a United States citizen, the new visa restrictions don't affect him, but he thinks they are unfair. "It's just a political maneuver," said Alemozafar, a chemical-engineering graduate student at Stanford. "It puts into writing what has been in practice. Students from Iran have to go through an extensive background search (to get a visa)."

The Persian Student Association at Stanford has estimated there are 16,000 students from the seven countries on the list who are studying in America, with 13,000 of them Iranians.

The student group released a statement which read, in part, "While Iranian students share America's grief over Sept. 11 and understand and support security measures implemented thereafter, we believe that . . . the bill could be counterproductive, unnecessary and contrary to the values this nation is built upon. Indeed, if we consider our incredibly productive multi-ethnic community, we have a perfect example of an environment with immense possibilities for cultural interaction, learning and exchange. The Iranian students at Stanford are extremely thankful and proud for having the opportunity to both benefit from and contribute to such an environment."

The Persian Student Association also noted that, according to the 1990 United States Census, 56 percent of Iranian Americans hold bachelor's degrees or higher, and 26 percent hold graduate degrees, "making them the highest educated minority group in the U.S."

Navid said he will adjust to the new restrictions. His parents have been able to visit him twice in the United States since 1999, but he has other family in Iran he hasn't seen in years, and won't until he finishes his studies at Stanford. "I have a 1-year-old nephew I haven't seen yet," he said.

E-mail Don Kazak at


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