Iran General NewsStandardized English tests to resume in Iran amid sanctions

Standardized English tests to resume in Iran amid sanctions

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New York Times: The Educational Testing Service, the company that offers the Test of English as a Foreign Language, announced Thursday that it would resume registering students for its tests inside Iran after striking a deal with a bank willing to process payments.

The New York Times

By YEGANEH JUNE TORBATI

WASHINGTON — The Educational Testing Service, the company that offers the Test of English as a Foreign Language, announced Thursday that it would resume registering students for its tests inside Iran after striking a deal with a bank willing to process payments.

The company said two weeks ago that it was temporarily halting registrations for the English test and its graduate-school admissions exam, after its bank refused to continue processing payments from Iran amid recent sanctions by the international community taking aim at the country’s financial institutions.

United States officials reiterated that sanctions approved by Congress last month were not intended to interfere in the business of companies with permission to operate in Iran, such as E.T.S., but rather to halt the advancement of the country’s nuclear program. At least one other company licensed to operate in Iran has reported problems arising from sanctions.

Iranian students and E.T.S. are letting out sighs of relief that registrations will resume.

“We’re very glad it was short-lived,” Thomas Ewing, an E.T.S. spokesman, said of the pause in registrations. During the hiatus, E.T.S. continued to conduct tests in Iran for students who had already registered, he said.

In an interview with the Iranian Mehr news agency Thursday, Ebrahim Khodaie, an official at Iran’s National Organization for Educational Testing, which coordinates student testing in Iran, confirmed that students can again register for the exams.

The testing service found another bank willing to process payments from Iran, and Mr. Ewing said it had been vetted by the Treasury Department. He declined to identify either the company’s former bank or the new one, saying only that both operate internationally.

The language exam is often a route to the West for Iranians hoping to study abroad, and the announcement July 14 that the company was suspending registrations in the country prompted an outcry from Iranian policy analysts, along with students and university admissions officers in the United States.

To register for the test and the Graduate Record Examination, students pay fees to the National Organization for Educational Testing, which transfers payments through banks to E.T.S. The testing service holds a license to operate in Iran from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Treasury Department unit that enforces American economic and trade sanctions.

But the sanctions approved by both the United Nations and the United States taking aim at Iran’s financial institutions have heightened some banks’ fears of transactions involving Iran. The United States has sanctioned 16 Iranian banks accused of having connections with the country’s nuclear program, and this week the European Union announced that it would freeze the assets of several Iranian banks, in a move to isolate the country economically over its nuclear program.

An official in the Office of Foreign Assets Control said that the organization makes a significant effort to make clear to financial companies what they are permitted to do under the sanctions.

“I think there’s actually a pretty good awareness of what our sanctions prohibit and require with respect to Iran,” the official said.

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