Civil engineering graduate student Azadeh Mostofi was supposed to walk the stage with her fellow classmates in May, but because of the Trump administration’s travel ban, she wasn’t even in the country.
In August 2017, Mostofi went back home to Tehran, Iran, to visit her family — something most college students do without any difficulties. But Mostofi, who has been a UT student since 2013, was never able to come back into the United States.
“I just wanted to come and see my family because it’s pointless to be far from them,” Mostofi said. “I wanted to make sure they are good, and I wanted to be with them. I had to take this risk.”
Mostofi planned to come back to UT in January 2018, around the same time the travel ban went into full effect. The most recent iteration of the ban affects travel from North Korea, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Venezuela. Mostofi said she wasn’t worried about the ban at the time of its announcement because she didn’t think it would apply to students.
“(The Trump administration) said students are not limited by this travel ban, and the reason I took this risk to come out of the United States was because I didn’t know it would affect me,” Mostofi said.
Usually, Iranian students are given single-entry visas. This type of visa must be renewed every time students leave and re-enter the country. Mostofi’s student visa is stuck in the administrative processing stage, which she said usually takes a few weeks to months, but for her, it has taken close to a year.
Out of pure desperation to get back in time for graduation, Mostofi said she reached out to eight individuals and organizations for help in expediting her visa application process. Among those Mostofi contacted were UT President Greg Fenves, the UT-Austin International Office and President Donald Trump.
“I was desperate,” Mostofi said. “The reason I reached out to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Trump was just to let them hear my voice and see just how people are affected.”
Mostofi said she received responses from six of the people she reached out to, but didn’t get tangible help from many of them.
“Both the International Office and the Office of the President said they can’t write a letter on my behalf to a consulate or the Department of State to expedite my case, because it’s just not something that they can do,” Mostofi said.
Out of everyone, Mostofi said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) was the most responsive, and even reached out to the consulate on her behalf. Mostofi said she appreciates his attempt to help her.
“Nobody else had done anything,” Mostofi said. “He actually reached out for my case.”
During her time at the University, Mostofi was a teaching assistant for different engineering courses every semester. Her research is related to the risk assessment of landslides.
Although her future at UT is uncertain, Mostofi is still perfecting her dissertation and pays tuition in order to stay enrolled. She is about to miss her third semester at UT, but aspires to get a job or postdoctoral fellowship in civil engineering if she can ever return to the U.S. to graduate.
“The University of Texas is one of the best universities in the United States and also the world, so I was really interested in coming and continuing my studies,” Mostofi said. “But I don’t have any future if I don’t graduate.”