On August 10, 2012, President Obama signed into law the
Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Human Rights Act of 2012 [Pub.L.
112-158]. Section 501 of that law provides:
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 (as defined
in section 101(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1001(a)) 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.
This provision is effective "with respect to visa applications filed on or
after" August 10, 2012. The bipartisan legislation, led by the chair and
ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
(R-Fla.), and Howard Berman (D-Calif.), respectively, passed both the House
and Senate almost unanimously just before breaking for the August recess.
On August 31, 2012, SEVP sent SEVIS users a broadcast message [1208-08] to
notify them of the existence of this law, and to say that "Supplementary
guidance for stakeholders is forthcoming." In the meantime, each element of the
statutory wording must be interpreted directly. Here is a parsing of the
statutory elements, along with some focus questions:
Consequences of being covered by the law:
- Express consequences:
"shall deny a visa"
- DHS "shall exclude from the United
Some general questions:
- How does it affect prospective students who would like to come to the
United States after August 10, 2012 to begin their studies?
does it affect covered Iranians who were outside the US on August 10, 2012
on a "brief, casual, innocent" visit abroad, and who had planned to
reenter the US to resume their studies?
- How does it affect covered
Iranians who were in the US on August 10, 2012, but would like to travel
abroad after that date and then return to resume studies?
- How does it
affect prospective or current students who will study in a nonimmigrant
status other than a student status (e.g., an H-4 dependent)?
the language of the law focuses on visas and admission to the United
States, can the law be read in any way so as to impact:
- Change of
- Extension of stay?
- Practical training/Academic
Triggersin the law, with some
- The provision is triggered when "the
Secretary of State determines" an Iranian citizen is covered by the
provisions [Does requiring a DOS determination limit application of the
law to Iranian students applying for visas?]
- Basis of the
Secretary of State's determination:
- Citizen of
- "Seeks to enter the United States" [Does this refer only to
initial entry, or to subsequent entries as well?]
participate in coursework" [Does the requirement spare Iranian students
who are on post-completion OPT, since they are no longer participating in
coursework? Could "to participate in coursework" be interpreted in an
overly broad way to include the teaching courses, viewing both students
and teachers as "participants" in coursework?]
- "at an
institution of higher education"
- "to prepare the alien" [does
"prepare" mean prepare for a new career only, or does it also apply to
"further preparation" in the same career?]
- "for a career in"
[is a "career" something more than a "job"?]
- One of the
- "the energy sector of Iran" [this is
broadly worded; does a career in "the energy sector" include, for
example, someone who wants to come to the US for an MBA to further a
career in energy financing, management, sales, etc.? i.e., who will be
working in the energy sector, but in a non-scientific capacity?]
- "nuclear science"
- "nuclear engineering"
related field" [again, broadly worded; what about someone coming to
study physics to pursue a career in teaching science in schools?]
- "in Iran" [what if they plan to pursue their career in the US (as
would a permanent resident, who is required to reside in the US), in
Europe, anywhere other than Iran?]
unanswered questions will make advising difficult, for both prospective and
continuing students. Current students who want to travel and reenter would have
to do so knowing that these questions are unanswered, which makes travel a
risk that only they can decide is worth taking. A student who needs legal
advice in order to weigh that risk should consult an attorney.
July, 2013 Issue of SEVP Spotlight, published by the DHS Student and Exchange
Visitor Program, SEVP included the following "Note from the Department of
"A Note from the Department of
The "Iran Threat Reduction and
Syria Human Rights Act" was enacted August 10, 2012. According to Section 501,
Iranian citizens are ineligible for U.S. visas if they are seeking to enter the
U.S. to participate in coursework at an institution of higher education for a
career in Iran's:
- Petroleum sector;
- Natural gas
- Nuclear energy sector; or,
- Nuclear science field;
- Nuclear engineering field.
fields of study that render a visa applicant ineligible include:
- Petroleum engineering;
- Petroleum management;
- Nuclear science;
- Nuclear engineering; or,
- A related
Individuals 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. Consular officers will review each visa application
submitted on or after August 10, 2012, to determine if the applicant is
ineligible for a visa under this provision. For additional information on U.S.
visas, please visit Travel.State.Gov."