Due to years of sanctions on Iran, many young Iranians studying at universities and colleges in the United States have faced a problem with receiving money from their country to pay tuition or transfering money for living expenses. After gaining admission, they must navigate a way around sanctions on Iranian banks that make direct legal wire transfers to the West a practical impossibility.
The Iranian student’s problem was highlighted after a clause designed for helping them appeared in a nuclear deal struck last month between Iran and world powers on curbing its nuclear program. On November 24th, Iran signed an interim agreement to stop its most sensitive nuclear activity in return for a 6-month respite from some of the sanctions. As part of the deal, the U.S. and its partners agreed to open up a channel between Iranian and foreign banks to enable “direct tuition payments to universities and colleges for Iranian students studying abroad,” writes Jonathan Kaminsky of Reuters.
According to figures provided by the Institute of International Education (IIE), more than 51,000 Iranians were studying in the United States at the time of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. With relations between the countries in a deep freeze, that figure fell quickly to a low of fewer than 1,700 by 1999. Since then, Iranian students have been steadily returning to the United States, according to IIE.
In 2013, 8,744 Iranians are in the United States on student visas, more than at any time since the late 1980s. Most are graduate students, many focusing on math and science, who are more likely than undergraduates to receive stipends covering a portion of their tuition and living expenses.
“Many students are suffering,” said Tony Akhlaghi, who has served as faculty adviser to a Persian cultural club at Bellevue College, outside of Seattle. “They cannot get money from home, and the price of the dollar makes things very hard.”
In addition, Iranian students are required to travel out of Iran to acquire a U.S. visa because Washington has no embassy in Tehran. Furthermore, the Iranian rial lost about two-thirds of its value against the U.S. dollar over the 18 months to late 2012, effectively wiping out years of Iranian family savings. It has since recovered some ground and stabilized.
The recent nuclear deal offers the potential for tangible help for Iranian students, authorizing $400 million in state assets frozen abroad to be used for tuition payments to foreign colleges and universities over the six-month period, according to a White House fact sheet.
Iranian students are hoping that the deal will help ease their woes, although it was not immediately clear that it would help students already in the United States to transfer private funds to pay for their education.
Saghi Modjtabai, executive director of the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans, said that in the middle of last year her group began hearing from financially strapped students who were late on tuition payments and struggling to pay for essentials like food and rent.
She said her group found after a survey that more than 90% were in financial difficulty. Her group and the IIE last spring raised over $100,000 and negotiated tuition and meal plan deals with schools across the country for 67 students on the cusp of attaining their degrees.