boston logan airport iran engineering graduate student northeastern university visa customs and border protection immigration iran
boston logan airport iran engineering graduate student northeastern university visa customs and border protection immigration iran

Iranian Students Denied Entry to US

Despite having valid visas to attend universities, more than a dozen would-be graduate students have been detained at the airport and sent back to Iran in recent months.

kerry grens
Kerry Grens

Kerry served as The Scientist’s news director until 2021. Before joining The Scientist in 2013, she was a stringer for Reuters Health, the senior health and science reporter at...

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Jan 28, 2020


On Monday (January 27), Alireza Yazdani Esfidajani boarded a plane in Detroit and headed back home to Iran. He had been in the US for just one day, having arrived Sunday with plans to matriculate in an agricultural sciences graduate program at Michigan State University. But according to the Lansing State Journal, US Customs and Border Protection agents took him into custody and determined Esfidajani was “inadmissible,” the agency wrote in a statement.

Esfidajani signed a document agreeing to withdraw his application for entry to the US, and departed.

The circumstances surrounding Esfidajani’s rejection to study in America are unclear, but instances of Customs and Border Protection turning away Iranians with valid student visas are increasing, The Guardian reported earlier this month.

“The number of cases we hear about from other communities does not compare to what’s happening to Iranians,” Ali Rahnama, an attorney for the nonprofit advocacy organization Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans, tells The Guardian.

On Saturday, The New York Times described 16 cases of Iranian students who say they were pulled aside, questioned, and ultimately denied admission to the US in the past six months. Many of them were prospective engineering graduate students, including one man who, according to The Guardian, designed Iran’s first portable electrocardiogram device.

Customs and Border Protection has declined to explain to news outlets why the students were rejected, but tells the Times that health issues and security concerns can lead to admission being revoked.

In one case, a judge intervened to grant an Iranian student temporary admission while he was detained by Customs and Border Protection this month. Mohammad Shahab Dehghani Hossein had arrived in Boston to study at Northeastern University. A Massachusetts district court judge ordered Dehghani not be sent back to Iran for 48 hours so he could attend a detention hearing. But the agency nevertheless sent Dehghani on a plane back to Iran, telling CNN in a statement that it was “unaware of the issuance of any court order barring the removal of the subject from the United States.”

Northeastern has said it is working to help Dehghani return to the school.

In a statement to CNN, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts says, “We are looking at all options to hold CBP accountable for wrongfully deporting Iranians and other students who hold valid visas.”

Kerry Grens is a senior editor and the news director of The Scientist. Email her at