American and Iranian flags on display during negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program in 2015. The two governments have long been at odds, but academic relations between the countries run deep, leaving Iranian students and scholars especially vulnerable to the Trump administration’s new restrictions on travel.
As reports of the impact of the Trump administration’s travel restrictions emerge, one population in higher education seems disproportionately affected: Iranian academics and students.
To some, that may come as a surprise. For almost four decades, Iran and the United States have had difficult, even hostile relations. But America has long been — and remains — a popular destination for Iranian students to study and for Iranian scholars to pursue their careers.
Here’s a snapshot of the higher-education ties between the nations, how the links developed, and what President Trump’s executive order, which temporarily limits entry for Iranians, among others, may mean for them.
Of the seven Muslim-majority countries that the Trump administration’s order targets — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — Iran by far sends the most students to American colleges. In 2015-16, more than 12,000 Iranians studied in the United States, with a majority of them — almost 78 percent — in graduate programs, according to the Institute of International Education. Iraq sent the next-largest cohort — ۱,۹۰۱٫
Coverage of how the president’s executive order barring all refugees and citizens of seven Muslim countries from entering the United States affects higher education.
America is “still the country of first choice” for most Iranian students, said Shaul Bakhash, an emeritus professor of Middle Eastern and Iranian history at George Mason University. “It’s striking that that popularity has continued through the Islamic Revolution, barriers to studying abroad, and the years of financial squeeze” due to international sanctions and economic problems in Iran.
Mr. Bakhash, who was born in Iran and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard University, says America is a “strong magnet” because of the large Iranian-American community in California and other states and because of its universities’ global reputation in engineering and other scientific fields.
Indeed, more than half of the Iranian students in the United States are studying STEM subjects.