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February 17, 2015

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif before a meeting in Geneva in January 2015. Zarif said that his meeting with Kerry was important to see if progress could be made in narrowing differences on his country's disputed nuclear program. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

The University of Massachusetts Amherst has banned Iranian international students from enrolling in certain graduate programs, including engineering and natural sciences.

UMass says its policy is dictated by U.S. sanctions against Iran, citing a federal law: the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012.

Still, some academics argue the policy goes too far and the university may be discriminating against Iranians. They say UMass is exercising extreme caution and this policy would prevent qualified Iranians from studying in the U.S.

The World's Nina Pozucki reports American sanctions against Iran have worked the way the U.S. hoped they would:

They're taking a big bite out of Iran's economy, and the two countries are negotiating toward a deal on Iran's nuclear program. But sanctions are also having an unintended side effect: Some Iranian students are now unable to come to the U.S. to study.

Jamal Abdi with the National Iranian American Council tells The World that the UMass policy comes down to nuclear weapons: "There's a provision in this 2012 bill that says that the Secretary of State is authorized to bar Iranian student visas for Iranians who are coming to the U.S. to study a field in nuclear science or related to energy that would then potentially be used back in Iran to advance the Iranian energy sector or Iranian nuclear program."

UMass is implementing its ban at a time when the Obama administration is encouraging academic partnerships with Iran. 

As we reported last year, the number of Iranians who want to attend college in the U.S. is on the rise, but cost and strict visa policies make it difficult. That changed slightly under a recent ruling by the U.S. Treasury that permits academic exchanges and, for the first time, allows students in Iran to access American courses online.

Listen back to that story here:

Umass, higher ed, global competitiveness, sanctions, iran

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