Working for Us

Advocacy in Iranian American community


Working for Us
by Ari Siletz

Hillary Clinton’s announcement last week regarding a change in US visa policy was welcome news to Iranian students coming to America to study. With the old single entry visas there was no guarantee that Iranian students would be able to return to class if they left the US to, say, visit a sick parent. But from now on, new students will receive two year multiple entry visas. This compassionate policy change was announced a few weeks after Huffingtonpost published an article by Jamal Abdi and Trita Paris titled, “How Obama Can Reach the Iranian People: Start With Visas.” However, behind the scenes, the National Iranian American Council, an organization founded by Trita Parsi, had been working on the issue for almost two years. I emailed NIAC to ask how it had picked the visa problem to tackle out of all the other issues competing for its resources. Here are three points that I learned along with some discussion:

1- A lot of Iranian Americans, both members and non-members, had pointed out how unfair the situation was.

I was one of the people who had contacted NIAC regarding the unfairness of the single entry visa policy. One of my daughter’s Iranian classmates had been invited to Ireland to lecture on her scientific research and she couldn’t go without risking her education and career. It was sad to see this brilliant young Iranian scientist having to ask another researcher to present her work at the seminar abroad. I publicized the case of this young woman in a blog where she says, “All my Lab is currently in Dublin meeting with a group of scientists about MY research, and I could not go.” In a more tragic case, one student could not attend the funeral of a family member executed by the Iranian regime. The US government was inadvertently treating Iranian youth as enemies even as they were being beaten and killed by their oppressors.

2. NIAC knew that tackling the issue was within the scope of their expertise and capabilities.

I wasn’t sure to what extent civilian action groups like NIAC helped with government decisions on the Iran issue, so I asked the US State Department for an official statement. This was their reply,

“The new visa validity for Iranian students is a concrete example of President Obama’s pledge to support Iran’s young people and to build new avenues for engagement with Iran’s youth. The State Department regularly [boldface mine] consults with Iranian student groups and Iranian American groups about the steps we can take to allow Iran’s young people to better interact with the rest of the world.”

We thank President Obama for his pledge. We also thank the State Department for clarifying for us that there is an emerging Iranian American voice because “Iranian American groups” are consulted and therefore do play a role. In fact I found NIAC quite eager to also give enormous credit to the student group MEVISA (Multiple Entry Visa for Iranian Students) for their efforts.

Part of NIAC’s expertise is their savvy in how the American system works. For example, which senators and congressmen to approach and what each of these influential people need from us in order to help them make our case for us. NIAC knew to approach Senator Carl Levin—in fact they have cultivated a long-standing relationship with him. NIAC knew that President Obama’s Norooz message wanting more Iranians to study in the US was a general policy signal inviting ideas as to how to implement it. They met with the State Department and the White House to bring their attention to this problem, while pointing out that the visa issue was an opportunity to carry out the President’s directive. As part of a public campaign, NIAC created a video last year bringing attention to the fact that the single entry visa contradicted Obama’s Norooz message to the Iranian students. NIAC initiated action alerts, wrote website articles and led a remarkable letter-writing campaign that brought 10,000 letters to the White House and the State Department requesting a change in the unfair visa policy. This is the substance of the statement made by the State Department spokesperson attesting to the fact that we are participants in our government’s decision making. As individuals our civilian power is limited to the single vote because many of us don’t know how to “log onto” and navigate our democratic institutions effectively. Here’s where we use the specialized organizations that we have helped create. NIAC is one such organization.

3. The visa issue fit within the framework of NIAC’s current focus.

NIAC’s focus tracks the concerns of Iranian Americans. At one point there was great fear that the US might launch an attack against Iran, so at that time one NIAC focus was on anti-war advocacy. Priorities have changed for Iranian Americans since the 2009 Iran election protests; we are now more focused on Iran’s human rights issues. It is no surprise then that NIAC would take on an issue that provides relief to Iranian youth who would choose to continue their education outside of Iran’s relentlessly politicizing universities, and outside the confines of a dictatorship in which fresh ideas cannot be easily discussed and analyzed.

Despite the obvious humanitarian aspect of the visa policy change, there was some opposition to NIAC’s advocacy on behalf of Iranian students. Last year Michael Rubin wrote an article saying the US shouldn’t relax visa rules on Iranian students unless Iran also relaxed visa rules on American citizens. As though thousands of American students are trying to flee the repressive academic environment in the US to seek refuge in Iran’s educational haven. And as though the IRI is ever so eager to accommodate Iranian students who are sick of tyranny and would choose to study abroad. To bolster his argument Rubin mentions that some Iranian students may be terrorists or spies.

Astonishingly, there are Iranian Americans who would side with Rubin against NIAC.

I have witnessed how attacks against NIAC have gained a foothold in the minds of some Iranian-Americans even as they feel sympathy for the suffering inside their country of origin. Why won’t NIAC address larger human rights issues? they ask, downplaying NIAC’s humanitarian efforts. One issue NIAC has been addressing all along would be obvious to any peace activist: they advocate against over-zealous sanctions hurting innocent Iranian workers whose livelihoods are caught in the middle of the US-Iran conflict.

Here’s how the sanction issue works. The US puts a blanket economic sanction on Iran. IRGC businesses are weakened, but also Iran’s rug exports drop, for example. Some family in a village who makes a living dying carpet yarn becomes unemployed. Now, if as a result of US government action some American carpet dyers suffered financially, they would organize, talk to their congressmen and see if there was a way the US could accomplish its goal without running American carpet dyers out of business. The government would check and maybe come up with a way to have the cake and eat it too. The Iranian family in the village can’t do that. But we can be the voices for these innocent Iranians because we are American citizens. We can organize and make our government do the hard work to re-design the rules so that the US position against the IRI is not affected but at the same time the Iranian family has enough to eat. It may not work, but it’s a humanitarian responsibility to try.

Obviously NIAC has the potential to succeed on grander scales in the future. It is the nature of institutions in the democratic world to start small and slowly grow in power through small successes, incrementally increasing their popular support. NIAC, however, faces bigger challenges relative to the typical advocacy organization because it straddles both the democratic and the non-democratic worlds. Centuries of one-man rule have had a disorienting effect on the Iranian political mindset that tempts us to place unreasonably high demands on this still maturing organization. At the same time too many of us refuse teamwork and political participation in achieving the results we demand. The strategy of NIAC’s opponents has been to leverage this aspect of the Iranian American democratic inexperience against us by generating resentment against this organization. Operating by innuendo they spread rumors about NIAC to create an aura of conspiracy around it.

NIAC’s Trita Parsi is optimistic, however:

“This [visa] episode showed that when our community comes together, there is so much we can achieve. Our destiny is truly in our own hands. We can choose to listen to the destructive elements who only complain, only accuse and only destroy, or we can choose the constructive path that leads to improvements, solutions and renewed hope.”


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ATTN Iranian students and NIACers (as per Mehrdad)

by MM on

NIAC is hosting an interactive online chat with representatives from the U.S. Department of State next Thursday, June 2.

1. If you are a NIACer (as per Mehrdad), here is your chance to present your evidence to the US State Department Representatives and ask them to have the NIAC staff arrested on the spot as IRI agents.

2. If you are an Iranian student, this is your chance to ask questions and get answers on the recent change in the single-entry student visa policy.

To sign up, click here: //


VOA report on single/multiple entry visa for Iranian students

by MM on

This Voice of America report describes the history of how NIAC has been active in this area since two years ago:





آرش می گويد، «من می خواستم برگردم، و پدرم را در روزهای آخر عمرش ببينيم. اما ويزايم فقط برای يک بار اعتبار داشت و در صورت خروج از آمريکا ممکن بود ديگر نتوانم به مدرسه برگردم. با خانواده ام مشورت کردم و همه گفتند برنگرد چون ممکن است اين فرصت را ديگر نداشته باشی.»


سازمان شورای ملی آمریکاییان ایرانی تبار (ناياک)، از دو سال پيش با بروی کار آمدن دولت باراک اوباما تصميم گرفت تا خود را در مسير تاثير گذاری بر اين بودجه قرار دهد تا آمال آمريکايی های ایرانی تبار را از اين طريق محقق کند.

يکی از اين نگرانی ها سياست صدور ويزای تحصيلی يک بار ورود برای دانشجويان ايرانی بود که سالهاست اسباب زحمت آنان را فراهم آورده است. نایاک از همان آغاز تلاش هایش در ايجاد تسهيلات برای دانشجويان ايرانی، ابتدا یک دوره پژوهشی را طی کرد تا ضمن ترسیم چشم اندازی برای این حرکت و شناسایی متحدان و منتقدان آن، چرايی وجود چنین مشکلی بررسی شود. در آن مقطع، برای اعضای ناياک هنوز معلوم نبود که آيا از نظر ايرانيان آمريکايی تبار، و يا حتی از نظر دولت آمريکا، چنين مشکلی وجود دارد، و يا آينکه آيا دولت حتی از چنين امری آگاه است. در اين راستا ناياک فعاليت های خود را با گروهی که با وبسايت  MEVISA همکاری می کنند هماهنگ نمود.





by koa on

I am sorry I am not good in let me say in Farci


They think they can fool people of so many thousand years of IRAN. 


Thanks NIAC

by Sepidar on

Its about time to give some credit to NIAC for all their hard work and tell them "Khasteh Nabashin va Dastetoon Dard Nakoneh"

Hafez for Beginners

Thanks NIAC (Space Exploration vs. Mediocre Kabob)

by Hafez for Beginners on

Ari: Thanks for the following: "How is it going to look if we Iranian-Americans go back to a free Iran
and find ourselves to be civic museum relics? "What organizations did
you build in America?" they would ask. "eBay?"  

That was brilliant. The Iranian-American success story has been in 30 years, INDVIDUAL success, and very, very little collective success. Individually, we have E-Bay, we have Anousheh Ansari: the first female tourist in space - and I commend them fully - but collectively, we have a few Kebab Houses to gather and eat  Kabab at.  It's sad, and I hope the new generation will lay the seeds for this change!

NIAC: No - Niac isn't the "King" - if we stop thinking that way, ie. it's just an organization, and you don't have to worship it or fully agree with it. Hopefully there will be more organizations,  too. It's the "despotic" mindset, that power = King and abuse, that prevents us from fitting into the US mould of living. NIAC isn't King, it's an organization that did its job well. Many, thanks. I don't worship you - I just applaud you. (which is what politics is about, and as Iranians if we can't differentiate between "worship" and "applaud", we'd remain eternally on the lower rudders of progress.) Thank you, NIAC.


Ramin J

We are lucky to have NIAC!

by Ramin J on

I just found out that my cousin's daughter is coming to study in the US. She had defered acceptance to a US university last year because of the single entry visa and her fear of not being able to see her family, particularly her ailing mother. With this change, thanks to the efforts of Iranian students and NIAC, she has now accepted her position and started the visa process.

The entire family are on clouds.

Perhaps I am selfish, but with this personal benefit from the work of NIAC, how can I possibly not support this organization? How can I buy all the non-sense personal attacks from some of these nameless hacks on Perhaps they don't have family in Iran? Perhaps they don't care about the plight of the Iranian people.

Well I do. And therefore I support NIAC.


عجب تبلیغاتی میشه برای این سازمانِ مشکوک در این سایت


من فکر نمیکنم که حتی وب سایت خود این آقای سوئدی-ایرانی‌ "پارسی‌" هم اینقدر که در اینجا برای سازمانشان تبلیغ میشه برای خودش تبلیغ کنه!

مثل اینکه ما اشتباه کردیم که نرفتیم تو بیزینس لابی جمهوری اسلامی.  کاش ما هم رفته بودیم چند تا ایمیل زده بودیم به اعضای سفارت جمهوری اسلامی و یک آدم مشکوک در ایران کرده بودیم "رابط" و زنگ زده بودیم از سوئد به آقای هوشنگ امیر احمدی که بیارتمون تو آمریکا و برامون سازمان درست کنه و بکنتمون رئیس اون سازمان....


Ari Siletz

MG, Paykar

by Ari Siletz on

Maa ham az raah e door injaa ye chai be salaamati mizanim.



by Paykar on

I have a nack for killing certain threads:-)

I would love to. I will e-mail you about the possibility of it.  Wife already says I should go; I told her about Herbal tea-She just frawned!

Mash Ghasem


by Mash Ghasem on

Kar ma digeh az chaei gozashteh!

How about a weekend in our beatiful city with the family? We'll serve some Ginger tea, perhaps some Herbal tea as well, cheers


With apologies to Ari jan for tis off-topic, personal chatter.




by Paykar on

Saat-e Khub Mashti. Chai ba ghand mail daried:-)

Mash Ghasem

Careerists in pursuite of mainstream Corporate lobbying

by Mash Ghasem on

or Grass-roots' movement building and connectig with the movements  within Iran.

NIAC seems to be all about the former.

What is urgently needed is the latterr.

Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

"Never unfriend an idealist."

-not a quote by Carlin.



by Paykar on

I am glad you responded. I absolutely believe in the Ideals; that is why I say, only if America would become what she is capable of becoming...

P.S. I thought if this was misconstrued; one of us would intiate the 'unfriend' thing:-)

Ari Siletz

Paykar, some perspective

by Ari Siletz on

In Iran anyone remotely the equivalent of George Carlin is jailed or murdered. In the US Carlin was a successful social critic, Grammy and all.

Obviously he is complaining about a different problem than the one we face in Iran.Here's a quote from him which clarifies the difference because it will get a totally different reaction in Iran.

"If we could just find out who's in charge, we could kill him."

Here's another quote which is almost an autobiography in itself: "Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist." Carlin compalined because America does not meet an idealist's standards, not because it is a tyranny like Iran. In the former regard I quite agree with both idealists, you and he. I guess that makes three of us.



American dream. The public sucks-@#$# hope.

by Paykar on

I am here not because I am an American in character, agree with the political process, or culturally  find it to be a Mecca. I am thankful that I have been given the privilege to stay here and live here with some dignity.

It's a grand illusion to be able to believe in this nonsensical charade that passes for democracy. Talk to me about democracy when the money is taken out of election process.

Yes I am frustrated when people loose sight of the Forest for the Trees. Civic duty and democracy is not Rocket Science, it is a simple process; what matters is the rules, and whether or not there is an even playing field for all political actors.

I truly believe the following, although on the surface it is just comedy.

Adult language.



Soosan Khanoom


by Soosan Khanoom on

Thank you for this informative blog  :)

Ari Siletz

About being American...

by Ari Siletz on

Paykar, your comment highlights a frustrating attitude. In the US (or if travelling with a US passport) For all civic and legal purposes we are Americans with all the rights and responsibilities of US citizenship. This includes the right to organize and the responsibility to participate. Thinking of our American citizenship as a mere legal facade, or a scam to enjoy its benefits while we wait for someone to clean up Iran so that we can go back, is a tragic leftover from the undemocratic roots that even people inside Iran are trying to change. How is it going to look if we Iranian-Americans go back to a free Iran and find ourselves to be civic museum relics? "What organizations did you build in America?" they would ask. "eBay?"  


timelines on NIAC & single-entry visa issue

by MM on

I did a net search (not comprehensive) a few days ago and here are some timelines on NIAC's work Re: the single-point visa issue.  Based on remarks last week, while NIAC was not the only Iranian-American organization to pursue this issue, NIAC surely led the way.


ASSESSING A CHANGING LANDSCAPE - NIAC_March_10__2010_Conference_Transcript

Senate Bill is a Major Step Forward for Students Seeking Single-Entry Visa Fix – NIAC alert – June 7, 2010

Congressional Gridlock Blocks Progress on Iranian Single-Entry Student Visas – NIAC altert – Dec 22, 2010


Tell President Obama Keep his Promise and Fix the Single-Entry Only Policy for Iranian Students in the US - NIAC action altert for e-letter campaign  – April 14, 2011

Urge Obama to Fix the Single-Entry Visa Policy for Iranian Students Once and For All – NIAC action altert for e-letter campaign - May 12, 2011


On May 18, 2011, (// PDMI, the other Iranian-American organization, gave NIAC "full credit" by stating:

"Question to NIAC: Single Entry Visa Policy:  Do you have any document or a survey of the Iranian students who are studying here who have complained about not being able to return to Iran during their student years? Or, is this another NIAC smoke cloud, helping you hide your true intentions? Most Iranian youth are fleeing Iran for better employment and education and life opportunities. Trust me Trita, they do not even want to look back once they free themselves from the repressive and horrid yoke and lifestyle under Islamic government"


Obama Fixes Visa Policy for Iranian Students – NIAC News altert – May 20, 2011 



by Paykar on

We Americans do our own research..."

I hope you meant it as sarcasm. If you have, stop here. If you have not, read on:

Silly me, all this
time, I mistook you for an Iranian. This perhaps explains your unabashed
approval of Obama's Nurooz message and the efforts of NIAC on behalf of
the American companies to open trade with Iran; after all it's duty of a
red blooded American to desire the expansion of American influence to
enrich its coffers...



I did say, delibrately:

by Roozbeh_Gilani on

"iranian_americans", and not "Americans", as I highly doubt your average American pissed off with $4 a gallon gas price would give a hoot about Iran , let alone iranian student visa situation. But affect of $4 a gallon gas price on US voters, and Iran being a major oil producer is indeed a key factor in american policy makers mind and they  do have their very experienced British  advicers ( cousins) handy when it comes to means of reducing the oil prices!

now I am really outa here!


"Personal business must yield to collective interest."

Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

We Americans do our own research ; however we are happy to note that the BBC confirms our assessment in this case. I also inform you that our representatives in the Senate and Congress are advised by their constituencies, not by the BBC.   


shouldnt this blog be posted on

by Roozbeh_Gilani on

the advertisement section?!

Give us a break  for gods sake! US government made this decision on visa because they felt it would be highly popular with Iranian youth, and would not cost US government anything. It had nothing to do whatsoever with NIAC either. Dont believe me? then ask US embassy in London who did a virtual project on BBC persian asking what readership wanted to ask Mrs clinton most.  Overwhelming respondents were interested in this Visa issue. Obviously a burning issue on BBC reading Iranian youth's mind, way above the number of political prisoners at Evin torture chambers, the rising labour unrest, inflation, unemployment, poverty, regime's human rights abuse, threats of war due to regime's reckless nuclear policy, sanctions, etc!

But I give NIAC this; as "iranian_americans", they have well learnt the unique art of marketing and credit taking even where not due, American style!

Now I'm out here.  

"Personal business must yield to collective interest."

Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

You state,
"I honestly think there are growing elements inside Iran's echelons who
want to move away from the current path to nowhere, and need our help
and support to push for reform."

Solid point! Also your point about these elements knowing the impossibility of  running modern a country on 9th century poetry is well taken.

I believe the Obama administration is thinking along the same lines about strong progressive elements in Iran.  The statement by the State Department spokesperson actually speaks volumes in support of this conjecture. As you know, the US can't publicly or even directly in secret encourage such elements. In the former instance it would be a political kiss of death for the progressives and in the latter case progressive Iranians would be suspicious of it--given our history. The solution so far, as you see, is to continue to practice "be dar begoo taa divaar beshnaveh." This is the semi-hidden signal in the visa policy change, which from a certain point of view outshines its face value merit.

To conjecture further, I believe NIAC members and leadership understand what is being said by the US government and what we have to do in order to have more input in the work that is being done so that progress can be made towards the more concrete steps that you favor. Part of what the State Department statement is telling the Iranian American community is "get involved , convince us about your ideas, demonstrate that you have the numbers behind you and we will listen."

Appreciating the politics of the situation may bring more support for NIAC (or any other Iranian American group interested in a modern yet independent Iran).


Great Example of What NIAC can do

by bahmani on

Thanks to Ari for pointing out the competence, professionalism, and diligence that NIAC has always shown in pursuing efforts on behalf of Iranian-Americans.

That being said, we need NIAC to up the ante. I think this article has shown beyond any shadow of a doubt, that NIAC can get things done in the US.

It also shows that NIAC is occasionally willing to work outside it's Iranian-American mission, the Visa-Ban accomplishment a prime example. Iranian Students are not Iranian-Americans, and while they may be members of NIAC, working on an Iranian-Student issue is absolutely outside NIAC's Iranian-American mission.

That being said too, I would like to repeat my encouragement and request, that NIAC deviate even further from their mission, and take on the very same problems that are prevalent inside Iran, with the exactly same tactics, passion, competence, professionalism, and diligence that they pursue US political targets.

Since we have no coherent voice or arm of opposition to the many many many more problems in the Iranian government, what better way to achieve change and reforms inside Iran, than with our most proven, peace-driven, consensus and democratic process driven organization?

The same processes that NIAC applies to the US government will work with the Iranian government. Sure, not at first, and not as easily, but I really really really believe that 32 years after the revolution, and given the terrible conditions of governance, and highly questionable governmental practices, policies and laws, and worse, the abject utter failure of virtually every single economic and social system (other than the lucrative market for chadors), Iran herself is more than ready to be shown a way out of the very precarious corner it has unwisely painted herself into.

This ridiculous assertion that you can govern the intricacies and details of a modern state using a book of poetry from the 9th century, has proven to be a complete failure, and worse, has now put Iran in the precarious "can't back down now " position of an unnecessary but impending military attack by the US or Israel, for supposed nuclear power. That Iran does not ever need to develop. Even for peaceful power generation.

I honestly think there are growing elements inside Iran's echelons who want to move away from the current path to nowhere, and need our help and support to push for reform.

What better way to help them do that, than NIAC pointing out flaws, and offering standard, common sense, established, proven governance solutions, just as they outlined the benefits of lifting the Visa Ban here.

No one, but no one has ever sent Khamenei 10,000 letters. NIAC can do that.

No one, but no one has ever asked for a meeting with key majles members to work with them to draft resolutions and legislation for Iran's parliament to consider, vote on, and enact. NIAC can do that.

Yes there are many roadblocks and you can poo poo the likelihood of success from this side of the fence. And I would love to join you and accept that cynical view and forget all about Iran, except for one tiny thing.

No one, but no one has ever ever ever ever even tried to engage Iran in a civil, solution-oriented, discussion, and debate. NIAC can do that. (some say they already have:)

Look, everyone including me, has had innocent relatives assassinated, hung, tortured, killed and murdered by this government. That is done.

However, if we cannot forgive, we cannot forget. While I would never ask anyone to put aside their personal grief and psychoses over what has been absolutely proven beyond any doubt is a brutally oppressive situation, if we don't, we won't ever heal, and more importantly Iran won't get fixed.

If, with NIAC's help, we can begin to fix Iran, I think that will also begin the healing process for a lot of us.

Then, we can get back to being Iranians, and put all this Iranian-American pretense and general bullshit behind us.

We should never fool ourselves into thinking that as long as Iran is not free, that we are anything like other hyphenated Americans. You aren't a hyphenated American, if your country isn't free, and you didn't come here willingly, and chose to give up being Iranian to become an American (of Iranian descent).

While I have met many Iranian-Americans who fit that American bill perfectly, love this country even, the reality is that if Iran was a free democracy, I would bet you a big fat salad-olivieh dripping sandwich of your choice, that 99.99% of us would choose to live free in Iran, than live free in the US.


what a joke

by seannewyork on

these guys are such a joke.  i love their head lines:  we did it, working for us. if us means rafsanjani for sure niac is correct.

a bunch of self serving


Thanks Ari - ditto

by MM on



If you ever wonder about the insincerity of NIAC opponents

by Bavafa on

Look at the very first comment here. From all the points that has been risen in this article, and it is ahead of us as Iranians, this is what we see in response.

Or how a few folks have tried to portray this accomplishment as a none issue with no importance to the Iranian community and/or to remove any credit from NIAC for their work and this issue.

Great article, well argued and to the point.

Thank you Ari jaan for your contribution to the Iranian-Americans and all Iranians as a whole.


James D.

Great work NIAC

by James D. on

This is a huge step for Iranian students!


NIAC lobby

by Fred on

NIAC lobby’s own website says: “NIAC was founded in early 2002 by Alex Patico, Trita Parsi, Babak Talebi, and Farzin Illich .”

Therefore the assertion that “the National Iranian American Council, an organization founded by Trita Parsi” is factually inaccurate, it leaves out other people like Alex Patico.

This same Alex Patico is a board member of the CASMII lobby with established connections with the Islamist Rapist Republic.

The defenders of the NIAC lobby can continue denying it, however, unless and until NIAC lobby openly and honestly answers the many questions raised about its conduct and relationship with the Islamist tyrants and their gofers, the number of those questioning NIAC will continue to increase.