March 2021
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Nayereh Nouri, Alliant International University, San Diego, California, USA

What do people usually think when they hear the words social justice? Are they actually familiar with this topic? What is their understanding of the meaning of social justice? Many students from all over the world in different fields of study apply to enhance their education in an American college or university. Most of us would agree that having the ability to obtain an education is a basic social and inalienable right of individuals. Unfortunately, this right, an aspect of social justice, has in recent years been denied to Iranian students—as well as individuals from other countries—simply because of their nationality. As an Iranian national, I would like to share the experience of my fellow citizens, who have had both their lives and assumptions about justice disrupted over the past few years.

For many international students, studying in the United States is a simple and easy process, but for Iranians it is next to impossible. Many Iranian students have been admitted to American universities but have not been issued student visas. Earning a U.S. visa is a difficult process for Iranians because, after receiving admission from a university, we have to make an appointment with the U.S. embassy in Turkey, Armenia, or Dubai as there are no diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States. This process not only takes time, but it is also costly, especially with the value of the U.S. dollar in Iran, due to the economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States. If we get lucky and our visa is not rejected at the same time, we may get stuck in a long administrative process that sometimes takes about three or four years to resolve.

We live in a world where there is a lot of talk about social justice, but this concept cannot be seen in many cases in practice. Social justice has been defined as “a philosophy––a system of beliefs, knowledge and values––that constitutes what is equitable, fair, and inclusive in our societies in terms of redistribution (e.g., economic and societal resources, opportunities, goods, and services)” (Ortaçtepe Hart & Martel, 2020). Many language learners or students in various fields of study can apply to study in the United States, whereas Iranian students who have been admitted to American colleges and universities have not been able to receive a student visa due to a travel ban implemented by President Trump in 2017 (the ban was overturned on January 20, 2021, by newly elected President Biden). This ban made visa issuance more difficult for Iranians and citizens of other nationalities, whether the person was seeking a student visa, an immigrant visa, or a tourist visa. This unjust travel ban has affected the educational and occupational lives of many thousands of Iranian students. Where, then, is social justice for students’ educational opportunities? Because of this injustice, many talented Iranian students cannot be educated in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs website report (n.d.), for instance, 3,241 and 2,650 F1 student visas were issued for Iranian students to enter the U.S. in 2015 and 2017, respectively. These numbers decreased to 1,433 in 2018 and 1,674 in 2019 after the travel ban was implemented.

The issue of social justice is a critical one, and the impact on Iranians should be taken into account. While I personally feel this injustice, my story has been repeated countless times among countless individuals (see Your Nextdoor Iranian, n.d.; Gutierrez, 2021). My elder sister fell victim to this situation, and her student visa was rejected by the U.S. embassy in Turkey on the false claim that her interest was not to study but to immigrate to the United States. She is a computer engineer, and the possibility to study in the U.S. was taken away from her. Because of this experience, she lost many job opportunities that might have come her way; therefore, she became depressed thinking about time passing by without her being able to make any educational and economic advancements.

Now, as a new administration will set immigration policy in the United States, it is my hope that this social justice issue can be resolved and that we can face a new future. If all goes well, there will be not only more equal-education opportunities for Iranian students but also for those students from other countries such as Libya, Somalia, and Syria that are among those affected by the travel ban. Thus, a more equitable social justice will be achieved. As a TESOL professional considering this issue, I can repeat here the phrase “think globally, act locally.” While we are not able to change international immigration issues, we are able to address social injustices where we see them. As Linville and Whiting (2020) stated, “Motivated in part by a sense of social justice, we can employ advocacy to improve educational access and outcomes for the ELs we work with on a daily basis.”

Author’s note: I am thankful for the helpful comments of the anonymous reviewer and my TESOL professor, Ken Kelch, who helped me to express my story of social justice.


Gutierrez, I. (2021, January 20). “Psychological trauma and stress”: The lasting impact of the “Muslim ban.” NBC News.

Linville, H., & Whiting, J. (2020, September 19). Social justice through TESOL advocacy. TESOL Journal.

Ortaçtepe Hart, D., & Martel, J. (2020). Exploring the transformative potential of English language teaching for social justice: Introducing the special issue. TESOL Journal.

U.S. Department of State—Bureau of Consular Affairs. (n.d.). Nonimmigrant visa issuances by visa class and by nationality.

Your Nextdoor Iranian. (n.d.). Facebook. Retrieved February 9, 2021, from

Nayereh Nouri is a doctoral student in TESOL. She is an English tutor over social media and has three years of experience in teaching EFL and ESL. Nayereh is Iranian American and lives in Los Angeles with her husband.

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