Much of the immigration from Iran to the United States resulted from political unrest in Iran and as a consequence of people fleeing the Iranian Revolution of 1978-1979 and the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1980. As a state devoted to the majority religion of the Shia formof Islam, the Iranian republic has been intolerant of minority religions. While an estimated 98 percent of Iranians are Shia Muslims, immigrants to the United States have disproportionately contained adherents of Iran’s minority religions, which include Sunni Muslims, Zoroastrians, Jews, Baha’is, and Christians. Between the time of the revolution and 1990, the easiest way for an Iranian to obtain legal permission to enter the U.S. was by obtaining refugee status. Even after that time, Iranian refugees entered the United States at a rate of about 2,700 per year. From1990 to 2008, nearly 50,000 people from Iran were admitted to the United States as refugees. However, not all these people were included in the official immigration statistics, because they were all accepted as refugees receiving legal permanent resident status.
Another important way that Iranians have entered the United States has been to come as students and then apply for legal residence. Generally, Iranians who have sought student or other types of visas have usually gone to Turkey first, became the United States closed its embassy in Iran after 1979. Before the revolution, Iran went through a rapid period of development, so that it has many welleducated people. In addition, many Iranian high school students had already studied English by the early 1970’s, and knowledge of this language has made it easier for Iranian students to gain admission to American colleges and universities.
The period of tension between the United States and Iran immediately following the revolution created some problems for Iranians living in the United States. With the tacit approval of their new government, Iranians seized the American embassy in the capital of Tehran. They held Americans captive there for 444 days, creating an international crisis that contributed to U.S. president Jimmy Carter’s electoral defeat in 1980 and caused strong anti-Iranian sentiments to sweep across the United States. The U.S. responded by instituting an “Iranian Control Program,” which scrutinized the immigration status of nearly 60,000 people studying in the United States. In addition, even Iranian immigrants who were opposed to the new government in their country sometimes experienced open expressions of public hostility.