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U.S. University Reverses Ban On Iranian Science Students

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst says it will accept Iranian students into its science and engineering programs.

The university said in a February 18 statement that it will develop individualized study plans to meet the requirements of a U.S. sanctions law.

The announcement follows criticism of the university's announcement last week that it would no longer admit Iranians into science-related fields, including engineering and chemistry, in order to comply with U.S. sanctions.

The university argued that it had decided to stop admitting Iranians in certain scientific fields based on the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, which denies Iranians visas if they plan to study in the United States for a career in Iran's energy sector or in nuclear-related fields.

Iranians and the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) had described the decision as "discriminatory" and an "overly broad" interpretation of sanctions and called on the university to reverse the ban.

The NIAC applauded the university's decision not to restrict Iranian citizens from the studies.

NIAC President Trita Parsi said: "Sanctions have caused many problems, but they are not an excuse to discriminate against Iranian students. UMass has done the right thing to correct its mistake."

Mohsen Jalali, an Iranian PhD candidate in political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, told RFE/RL that Iranian students welcomed the decision by the university to continue accepting Iranians into science and engineering programs.

"This is what we expect from UMass, admission without discrimination," Jalali said in a telephone interview.

He added that students wanted the process of admission of Iranians by the university to be transparent.

Eric Ferrari, a Washington based lawyer who specializes in sanctions, told RFE/RL last week that the university had taken a broad interpretation of the sanctions law.

"They're obviously taking the approach that a lot of U.S. companies take, which is to be risk-adverse and to be very careful and erring on the side of caution, if there's a chance that there could be a violation then they don't want to touch it."

UMass said it decided to accept Iranians after consultations with the U.S. State Department and independent lawyers.

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

A State Department official told RFE/RL: "U.S. law does not prohibit qualified Iranian nationals coming to the United States for education in science and engineering. Each application is reviewed on a case-by-case basis."

The official said the State Department was committed to facilitating legitimate travel of qualified applicants.

"All visa applications are reviewed individually in accordance with the requirements of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, and other relevant laws that establish detailed standards for determining eligibility for visas and admission to the United States," the official said.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.