Sahar felt like he had fallen into a black hole.

The 26-year-old Iranian was selected by the U.S. Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering PhD Program in 2020, but had to postpone it for one year due to the Covid-19 outbreak. This spring, she went to Pakistan for a U.S. visa interview, but three months later, she still did not have the required documents for travel. At the large public university in the south where she is studying, classes can start in just 10 days. (chronicle Sahar and her institution were not specified because she, like other Iranian students, feared that public speaking might jeopardize her chances of obtaining a visa. )

Sahar, who plans to engage in vaccine research, wants to see her family who lives in the outskirts of Tehran for a few hours. Once she goes to the United States, she must complete her studies to go home, which may take five years or more. But if her visa is passed at the last minute, saying goodbye may jeopardize her travel to the United States. So she was waiting.

“I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to plan,” Sahar said. “I’m lost.”

Covid-19 has caused Huge unpredictability For international students from all over the world.The U.S. consulate is Scrambling to issue student visas Catch up with the fall semester in time and deal with the large backlog at the same time. Limited international flights, vaccine demand, and the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant have exacerbated complications.

But Iranian students are in a special situation. The lack of official links between the United States and Iran means that students must pass travel restrictions related to the pandemic in order to travel to a third country for visa interviews. The security review exacerbated the delay. U.S. sanctions prohibit Iranian students from taking online courses at home if they cannot enter campus this fall.

Some students who had to suspend their studies for a year due to the pandemic worry that if they cannot arrive in the United States soon, they may lose their admission letter or funds.

“They have always been challenged,” said Ron Cushing, director of international services at the University of Cincinnati, which usually enrolls 30 to 40 new Iranian students each year. “This year, the challenge is even greater.”

The interruption in the flow of Iranian students is also bad news for American higher education. According to data from the Institute of International Education, before Covid-19, 11,450 Iranian students were enrolled in American universities. Although this ranks only 13th among the countries that send students to the United States, Iran’s performance has exceeded its weight, especially at the doctoral level. Only the other three countries have more PhDs. American college graduates and Iranian students are particularly prominent in the technical and highly sought-after STEM fields.

They continue to provide nutrition to the talent pipeline within and outside the American academic community. According to the National Science Foundation, nine out of ten Iranian doctoral students plan to stay in the United States after graduation, at least during their first job or post-doctoral tenure, with a higher retention rate than any other country.

Kenneth Reade, director of international student and scholar services at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said: “There is something in the education water there. In normal years, the school admits up to 45 new Iranian students.” “Universities tripped over each other to recruit these students.”

Lasting connection

Despite the breakdown of diplomatic relations, ties between the two countries in higher education still exist.As early as the 1970s, Iran sent More students It has more influence on the United States than any other country, even though it ended with the Iranian Revolution in 1979.​​

Nevertheless, American universities are still regarded as the gold standard for many Iranian families, and they highly respect education.For most of the past 20 years, the number of Iranian students in the United States has increased rapidly, although this growth stopped after former President Donald J. Trump included Iran in the controversial plan Travel ban This prevented citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the country. (Iranian students subsequently won Special exemption From the ban, President Biden has been completely lifted. )

“When we received the acceptance letter from an American university, we thought we had achieved a very remarkable achievement,” Sahar said. The United States provides cutting-edge laboratories and equipment that Iran does not have.

The number of visas issued to Iranians actually increased in May and June, with 280 and 447 visas issued respectively. The students said that this progress has raised people’s expectations.

But in recent weeks, in the close network of people going abroad, very few students have reported receiving visas. In July, the US Embassy in Armenia issued only 21 student and exchange visas, which is the main channel for Iranian students. petition Urge the U.S. State Department to speed up processing.

Since the United States does not have an embassy in Iran, students go to the consulates of neighboring countries for the necessary face-to-face visa interviews.Currently, all outposts except for one of them have been interviewed waiting time “999 calendar days” or accept visa appointments only in emergencies. Some, such as Turkish consulates, do not apply for visas for people who do not live in the country.

Only the Pakistani consulate stated that they can book a student visa in the next few weeks. The waiting time in Karachi is 23 days and the waiting time in Islamabad is 31 days.

In order to make a visa appointment, Sahar flew to Islamabad for US$1,000, far exceeding the average monthly income of an Iranian family. Alireza Asadi, who received a full scholarship from Michigan Technological University, also went to Pakistan. Due to the lack of affordable flights, he took a 10-hour taxi ride from Karachi to the Iranian border to return home.

His visa is now Administrative processingEven before the pandemic, most Iranian applicants had to go through the heavy screening process of multiple intelligence agencies. “There is no reason to be sensitive, because my work is in a very safe field,” said Asadi, who studies cardiovascular engineering.

His academic supervisor tried to reassure him by telling him that he could be late for the semester starting later this month. Nevertheless, he is still very worried.

Sara is a PhD student at a public research university in the Midwest, and she can’t even arrange visa appointments. She has postponed enrollment until spring, but she is increasingly worried about not being able to make an appointment in time. She said that then she might lose her funds.

Sara has used most of her savings for college applications-she was taken from five PhD programs-as well as English exams and GRE. She didn’t know what would happen next. She said that her hair was falling out due to stress. “I will lose this opportunity. I will lose my future.”

Distance learning is not an option.National security, economy and science Sanctions The ban imposed by the United States on Iran prevents students and scholars from Iran from accessing international academic databases, participating in virtual conferences, and even taking classes through Zoom.

This makes postponement the only option. Last year there were more Iranian doctoral students postponed than students from any other country. Polls Found by the Graduate School Council.

At the University of Massachusetts, only 10 Iranian students chose to enroll because of the new crown virus last fall. Reid said that more than a year after their initial application, four of them are still waiting for visas.

Despite this, Reid is still reluctant to blame the pandemic for the slow processing of Iranian student visas. He said that even with Covid complications, Iranian students usually have to wait four to six months to get a visa due to administrative procedures. Postponements are commonplace, and students who enroll in the fall usually don’t arrive until spring. “In many ways,” he said, “this year is no exception.”

Dan Bowman contributed to this article.

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