President Carter's severance of US-Iran diplomatic ties has left 70,000 Iranian students studying at American schools in a more-than-academic limbo. "Every adviser from here to the Pacific coast is calling Washington to get a clarification for these students," says Barbara Flavin of Northeastern University in Boston, which has 460 Iranian students registered. "I don't think anybody quite knows what the President means."
In unusual jeopardy of being deported are 96 Iranian students at Norwich University in Vermont. Most are midshipmen in the Iranian Navy, and although they are not among the 209 Iranian military personnel training at US military bases ordered to leave the country by Friday, they are here on diplomatic rather than student visas.
"We're just sitting tight here, wondering how this does affect us," says Norwich spokesman George Turner. "We've had no directives from the immigration bureau how our students are affected. Right now we assume they're in the same category as all the other Iranian students . . . and that they'll be free to continue their education simply because we've received no directives to the contrary. Twenty-five of the students, who are scheduled to receive their degrees on May 17, are our greatest concern. It'd be a tragedy for them to go this far and then not be able to complete their degree."
Timothy Wayland, Boston district director of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), says the latest directives should mean no great change as far as Iranian students are concerned.
"The directives the President has put forth deal with aliens entering or re-entering the United States with visas. But if a student is no longer attending school and hasn't otherwise adjusted his status, he'll have to depart the United States."
Mr. Wayland says new regulations are being worked on that will require students to come to the INS annually to have their visas renewed.
Verne Jervis, another spokesman for the INS, says no decisions have yet been made as to what will happen when the present student visas expire at the end of the school year.
"What is clear is that if students leave the country, they cannot re-enter without going to the State Department and either getting the visa reissued or revalidated," he adds.
He says in recent weeks about 300 Iranian students have been ordered to leave the country -- and have left. Another 2,600 have been ordered to leave, but have not yet done so.
"There's a great deal of flexibility," Mr. Jervis says. "Some are ordered to leave within a few days; others are given an extended time."
The US Supreme Court recently upheld President Carter's order that Iranian students submit to a review of their student status and denied a request by a group known as the Confederation of Iranian Students for an order barring any deportations.
State Department spokesman Bernard Fennell says the President's new directives would have no effect on Iranian students in the US until they left the country. Then, if their visas expired while they were out of the country, they would have to apply for new ones. Most likely, he adds, new visas will not be granted.