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US Reconsiders Student Visas to Relatives of Iranian Officials

FILE - The U.S. State Department building in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. State Department is looking into complaints from Iranians who say they do not have the same access to U.S. student visas as family members of Iranian officials.

In an exclusive interview with VOA Persian at the State Department, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said Washington is reconsidering the student visas of family members of Iranian officials.

WATCH: Brian Hook Speaks to VOA Persian

Brian Hook Speaks to VOA Persian
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Hook said the U.S. sees it unfair to other Iranians who are barred from entering the U.S. because Washington considers Iran an exporter of global terrorism. Iran is one of seven countries whose citizens are limited in travel to the U.S. after President Donald Trump declared an immigration ban last spring that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June.

Students, however, have a special exemption from the travel ban — 12,783 Iranians studied in the U.S. in 2017 and 2018. But earlier this month, Iranian Twitter users complained about visas going to students who were related to Iranian officials while other applications languished.

In response, Hook posted a video on the U.S. State Department's Farsi Twitter account Dec. 11, raising the prospect of revoking U.S. visas issued to students related to Iranian leaders. Hook said the Trump administration was working to respond to questions from Iranian Twitter users.

"One of the consequences of [Iran's] being the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism in the world is that it causes the U.S. and other countries to have to impose visa restrictions," Hook told VOA Persian in an interview Dec. 13 that was broadcast Monday on VOA Persian's News at Nine program.

Tehran does not share "sufficient" information about Iranians who apply for U.S. visas, Hook said. Iranian authorities "know what they need to do [and] the behaviors that they need to change," he added. Hook said the Iranian government's behaviors are unfair to its citizens.

"The Iranian people understand that it is unfair for the regime to have its children here, and that same regime makes it very hard for its own people to get [U.S.] visas," he said.

Hook also repeated his assertion, made in the Dec. 11 Twitter video, that it is "hypocrisy" for the leaders of an Iranian government that encourages public chants of "Death to America" to also send their children to the U.S. for study purposes.

"These are some of the things that we are looking to change, in getting into a much better place for a better future with the Iranian people," Hook told VOA Persian.

Under the travel ban, U.S. officials said they would continue to issue visas to Iranian students, subject to enhanced screening and vetting requirements.

NBC report

U.S. TV network NBC reported earlier this month that families of Americans detained in Iran were urging U.S. authorities to deny visas to Iranian officials' children in order to pressure those officials into releasing the Americans.

NBC said the families provided the Trump administration and several U.S. lawmakers with a list of U.S.-based Iranian nationals alleged to be the children or relatives of senior Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani.

The NBC report said other people on the list included the son of Iranian Vice President for Family and Women's Affairs Masumeh Ebetekar, and the daughter of Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani. The report said the list came from relatives of some of the four Americans and one U.S. legal resident being detained in Iran on espionage charges that those relatives and U.S. authorities have rejected as bogus.

In comments published last month by pro-Larijani Iranian news site Khabar Online, Ebetekar said the decision of many Iranians to study in America in past decades "does not necessarily denote an approval of the hegemonic nature of the U.S. and its administrative policies."

Most readers who commented on the article were unimpressed by the comment and viewed her son's study in the U.S. as contradicting her active role in the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ruptured Iran's relations with Washington.

This article originated in VOA's Persian service.