Visa interviews at consulates around Iran – which doesn’t have its own U.S. embassy – are hard to come by during the pandemic, but Hasti Jafari Jozani managed to get one of what they needed in October in Dubai, United Arab Emirates forced to quarantine there for two weeks.
When her visa to study at San Francisco State University was granted this spring, she jumped for joy after postponing fall admission and a prestigious scholarship.
The 25-year-old playwright arrived in Istanbul, Turkey two weeks before her flight to San Francisco, as dictated by US travel restrictions that ban non-US citizens from direct flights from Iran. But then she belatedly discovered that federal guidelines now require incoming students to have proof of a personal study component in order to be admitted to the United States upon arrival. The San Francisco state courses are all online this semester, which means she didn’t qualify.
“The uncertainty, it was really something,” said Hasti Jafari Jozani. “It would have been devastating to get this far [have] so much expense, so much hope, but to be stopped and returned to Iran. It would be really brutal. “
Life as an international student trying to study at an American college has been a tumultuous and disorienting ride for many over the past year due to the pandemic and uncertainty about immigration rules.
Last semester’s federal regulations aimed to drive all international students out of the country, but were later rolled back after a spate of litigation and hybrid study housing.
Travel restrictions were lifted for Europe and Brazil last week, but can be reintroduced under the administration of President Joe Biden due to the coronavirus. They are still available to non-citizens from China and Iran.
Many new international students have either postponed admission or studied online from their home country because they could not enter the country or were concerned about the coronavirus in the US.
However, crippling economic sanctions preventing the exchange of goods and services also prohibit students in Iran from studying online in the US. Without an embassy and decades of diplomatic relations with the US, it was difficult for Iranians, including students, to obtain visas.
“Essentially, there are sanctions preventing Iranian students from studying in their home countries,” said Ryan Costello, political director of the National Iranian American Council. “Hundreds of Iranian students have been admitted to universities, but they cannot get their visas, so they are stuck. It’s a Kafka-like situation. “
Hasti Jafari Jozani is quarantined at her brother’s home in The City after receiving approval to study at San Francisco State University. (Courtesy Siavash Jafari Jozani)
Hasti’s brother, Siavash Jafari Jozani, lives in San Francisco. He and several university faculty and administration staff put in constant strategy, paperwork, and concern for her over the course of a month to emphasize that his sister was unlikely to get another visa later and may have to give up admission altogether if she did refused. Nona Caspers, Chair of Creative Writing, and Professor Michelle Carter, who were very impressed with Hasti Jafari Jozani’s talent and application, selected her for the George and Judy Marcus Family Foundation Scholarship and thought it was well worth the time.
“It increases the feeling of our own confidence that someone wants to come here and that we are fighting for them together, and the university has fought for them to come here,” said Caspers. “We didn’t have a student from Iran, especially not in the writing of plays.”
Ultimately, they developed a one-on-one component for the outside of a course studying the effects of the coronavirus and felt they made a compelling argument. Days before Hasti Jafari Jozani’s new flight and about a month after arriving in Istanbul, they received approval and wrote a letter confirming this.
But her case is special in many ways.
“The circumstances are extraordinary,” said Persis Karim, chairman and director of the SF Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies, who also advocated Hasti. “For me it is a great victory that the bureaucratic obstacles that were previously posed have actually been overcome through the efforts of individuals and educators who I believe understand – that education is for many people in many countries, but particularly in Iran “A lot” means where it is economically very difficult, politically very difficult, where a young person with ambitions as an artist is not free to practice her profession. “
Two other potential students in Iran, who preferred to remain unnamed for fear of retaliation, told the examiner they are eagerly awaiting visa approval after postponing it several times. The efforts of friends who applied for a license at the Foreign Property Control Office have gone nowhere.
Similar to Hasti Jafari Jozani, they had to travel from Iran at great expense. With the Iranian currency inflated due to sanctions, savings were spent for three years on a visa that may not get through. Both have fully funded graduate school scholarships.
“We can’t study online, we can’t get our visas, so we’re just stuck,” said a prospective student admitted to college in Illinois. “Only the Iranian students who have applied for a job in the US have this problem. I feel a little alone. We are not even aware of the near future. “
Siavash Jafari Jozani felt trapped in a “spider web” and is grateful that he is no longer there after intense stress. When he stood up for his sister, he was impressed by how little is known about how US politics affects the circumstances of regular Iranians.
“For us Iranians, it’s like we’re living it, but for Americans it’s just a title,” said Siavash Jafari Jozani. “You can’t give those four years back to people who had medical problems and had to come here for surgery or medicine, to people who missed unique family opportunities. The fact is, it was like that for many, many years before the Muslim ban. “
In a major change in that policy, President Biden lifted the so-called Muslim ban imposed under the previous administration.
Hasti Jafari Jozani hopes that other students will succeed in coming here and get the support they need to hold out a case. She also hopes her parents can pay a visit after the pandemic.
“I hope more people see this, hope and understanding,” she said. “I’m so grateful that they stood up for me, that it meant more than I can say. Now the other journey begins. “
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