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UMass reverses itself and will admit Iranians to science grad programs

UMass at Amherst reverses policy that barred Iranian nationals from certain graduate science courses

The University of Massachusetts, under pressure for a policy that barred Iranian nationals from seeking admission to certain graduate science courses, reversed itself on Wednesday and announced it will now accept the students.

The school had originally cited concerns that admitting the Iranians to some science courses related to nuclear energy could violate U.S. sanctions against Iran. The United States and Iran are currently in talks about Iran’s nuclear program.

In its statement, the school said it had reversed its position after consulting with the State Department and outside counsel.

“This approach reflects the university's long-standing commitment to wide access to educational opportunities,” said Michael Malone, vice chancellor for research and engagement. “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.”

UMass was one of a handful of schools that was barring the admissions of Iranian nationals to some science and engineering programs, citing the potential conflict with U.S. sanctions policy.

In a Tuesday interview with the Los Angeles Times, Malone said the university had established the policy after an Iranian who was doing graduate research was denied reentry to the United States in December as a result of sanctions and related regulations. He said the school didn’t want to risk violating the rules because there are significant civil and criminal penalties.

“The Department of State is committed to facilitating legitimate travel of qualified applicants,” a diplomat told The Times on background. “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.

“U.S. law does not prohibit qualified Iranian nationals coming to the United States for education in science and engineering,” the State Department diplomat said. “Each application is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. We will reach out to UMass Amherst to discuss this specific decision, and are available to answer any questions from other academic institutions regarding implementation of the relevant laws.”

Malone, in an interview on Wednesday, said the university had talked to the State Department and would use the individual approach.

“Federal law, the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, requires that the U.S. Department of State deny visas to Iranian students wishing to engage in certain fields of study related to the energy sector, nuclear science, nuclear engineering or a related field at U.S. colleges and universities," he said.

“To comply with the law and its impacts, UMass Amherst will develop individualized study plans as appropriate based on a student’s projected course work and research in conjunction with an offer of admission. The plan will be updated as required during a student’s course of study.”

UMass’ decision to bar Iranians set off complaints from Iranian students, who feared they were being discriminated against by the school, and an advocacy group representing Iranian Americans. The National Iranian American Council said it welcomed the reversal.

“Sanctions have caused many problems, but they are not an excuse to discriminate against Iranian students,” NIAC President Trita Parsi said in a prepared statement. “UMass has done the right thing to correct its mistake and we look forward to learning full details about how its new policy will ensure Iranian students are not discriminated against.

“Ultimately, these issues will not go away until broad sanctions are lifted. We hope that diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran can succeed in eventually achieving this. In the meantime, we will continue to work to prevent sanctions from punishing ordinary Iranians and Iranian Americans,” Parsi stated.

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