Suspected a spy by the U.S. government, Iranian student continues to struggle with visa issues


It’s been nearly 10 months since Iranian international student Saleh Rezaei Ravesh, has been stuck in Iran under suspicion by the U.S. government of being a spy, unable to return to East Lansing to complete his degree.

Rezaei Ravesh is a graduate student who came to MSU from Iran to study mechanical engineering in Sept. 2009, hoping to graduate in the spring of 2013. But this idea halted when he went home to visit his mother, who was battling sickness, in December 2011, and was not able to return because his visa was rejected in March — American officials red-flagged him, he was told, because of suspicions of espionage.
Rezaei Ravesh said, he still has not been given a reason from the Department of State as to why he would have been suspected of such activities. The department hasn’t disclosed details to MSU, said Peter Briggs, director of the Office for International Students and Scholars, or OISS.

“I’ve asked many people, many Iranian students in the U.S. … is there anybody who’s visa has been rejected and they said, No, nobody (has) heard about such a case,” Rezaei Ravesh said in a phone interview from Iran. “You know, I thought, ‘I am having a dream … I am not awake, this is a nightmare.’”

The U.S. has implemented new efforts to closely monitor Iranian students. On Aug. 10, President Barack Obama signed a new law banning Iranian students from studying nuclear-related fields in the U.S. It is not clear if the law is being applied to Rezaei Ravesh; he said nothing in his area of study relates to nuclear science in any way.

Making things even more complicated, U.S. and Iranian relations have been turbulent in the past because of the country’s nuclear activity — last week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu literally drew a picture at the United Nations General Assembly of an estimated time frame the countries would go to war if a compromise is not reached, sometime during the spring or summer, according to the other media outlets, such as the New York Times.

Briggs said out of all the international students at MSU, more than 6,600 individuals on student visas, he has not once during his time with the OISS seen or dealt with a case such as Rezaei Ravesh’s ­— where a student has been downright denied access back into the U.S. to finish their education.

“In this particular case, when you talk about espionage (activity) … what I don’t know are the facts: What is it that the (Department of State) saw that led them to conclude this,” Briggs said.
Rezaei Ravesh said he feels the Iranian people, like himself, are taking blame for the troubles of the government — whether or not they agree with the policies and laws.

“Issues between (the) two countries: the U.S. and Iran (are) the issues that we do not have anything to do with,” Rezaei Ravesh said. “Being born in country does not (mean) you believe in all the actions, the principles that live in that country.”

Rezaei Ravesh’s fellow mechanical engineering graduate student and friend Fariborz Daneshvar, has been involved since Rezaei Ravesh was denied his visa renewal and since then, with the assistance of other Persian Student Association members, created a Facebook page, promoted a petition to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and has sought legal advice, among other things, to get his friend back to MSU.

Daneshvar, who is the president of the Persian Student Association, or PSA, said he still is hopeful of his friend’s return but this situation worries him for the future of other students like himself and Rezaei Ravesh, who will go back to Iran to visit family and may not be able to re-enter the U.S. — especially with the current political climate with Iran.

“Because of the problems between two countries, other students might not be able to come back here,” Daneshvar said.

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