The New York Times has published interviews with some of them, many of whom had secured admission to some of the world’s most prestigious universities.
According to the paper, at least 16 Iranian students have been turned back since August, despite having valid visas which they had obtained after a notoriously grueling, months-long vetting process.
When the students reached American airports, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers disagreed and sent them home, some with a five-year ban on reapplying to return to the United States, it said.
Most say they were not told why they were deemed "inadmissible" — a broad label that customs officers have wide discretion to apply.
"What the students do know is that, at a time of rising diplomatic tensions between the United States and Iran, their plans for the future seem to have evaporated,” the paper said.
Amin, 34, entering a Ph.D program at the University of Florida, was turned away January 1 at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta.
But at the airport, officers wanted to know why a former school email address and an old research paper he had written were not disclosed on his visa application.
A flight back to Iran was not available for a couple of days, so Amin said he was placed in a chilly holding cell for six hours, then transported in cuffs and chains to an immigration detention facility in Georgia. The officers there ordered him to strip naked in front of them.
“The moment I entered the cell, I lost my spirit,” he said.