Despite progress Iranian students in Canada are still facing extremely long wait times for their permanent residency (PR) applications.
While the estimated processing time for PR applications on the government of Canada’s website usually ranges from 6-18 months for PR applications, many Iranians face wait times of as long as two or three years.
Since April 2018, both the AMS and UBC have been lobbying on behalf of Iranian students who are trapped in limbo as they wait for their residency to be confirmed.
“We are hearing from our students and we’ve been seeing in the media that across Canada these delays are causing very substantial difficulties for these Iranian students,” said AMS VP External Cristina Ilinitchi.
“Some students who have lived in Canada for many years for their studies are losing out on a bunch of jobs and studying opportunities because of these delays.”
Shannon Ker, communications advisor for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) attributed this delay to security screenings.
She added that individual factors like the overall complexity of a case or whether the application is complete can also elongate wait times.
“It’s frustrating for anyone hoping to immigrate when their application takes longer than expected, which has been the case for too many in the Iranian community,” Ker acknowledged in an emailed statement to The Ubyssey.
“Encouragingly, the Government of Canada has made important progress—however the reality of these processing times is complex and often misunderstood.”
According to Ker, while the average wait time was 92 per cent longer for Iranians than those of other nationalities in 2015, that rate was down to 41 per cent in 2017.
Despite these improvements, many Iranian students are facing the insecurity of extended wait times as they struggle to plan for their future. And even those that have recently received PR status are still struggling with the consequences of the extended delays.
“The main problem is when you are looking for jobs,” said Mahdi Mehr, a 2016 SFU graduate. “I myself was applying for a job in TRIUMF and my application was rejected only because I was not a PR…I also have friends who have quit their jobs because they couldn’t stay in Canada, because their status as students basically ended.”
Maryam Ghaedi, who is completing her PhD in UBC’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, only received PR status in August 2018 after over two years of waiting. By her calculations, she otherwise would have received citizenship by the end of her PhD, after which she would have been able to complete her training abroad and then return to Canada.
Her residency status has forced her to decline offers for postdoctoral training outside of Canada, even those from prestigious institutions, like the National Institute of Health in the United States
“It’s very common and very recommended that you would go to a high calibre institute abroad [for training],” Ghaedi said. “But now I don’t have that chance. I have the offer to go, and most trainees would not have that offer. But in my situation it’s far too complicated to go.”
A long way from home
Both UBC administration and the AMS have said that they are trying to address the issue, and are lobbying on students’ behalf to bring the issue to the attention of government officials.
Michelle Suderman, director of International Student Development at UBC, mentioned that UBC was approached by Iranian students, postdoctoral fellows and alumni who raised concerns about significant delays to their applications.
“In May, we forwarded the students’ statement to IRCC directly,” Suderman outlined in an emailed statement to The Ubyssey.
The matter was also addressed by UBC President Santa Ono, who sent a letter to the former Minister of IRCC in April 2018 detailing that among the approximately 300 Iranians nationally who faced extended delays in the application process, 24 were students at UBC.
“While UBC understands the national importance of having robust program integrity measures and security screening as part of Canada’s immigration system, I would also like to lend UBC’s supportive voice to these students and recent graduates from Iran,” the letter mentioned.
In his letter, Ono asked the Minister to “continue exploring this matter…and apply the attention and resources necessary to see these applications processed expeditiously.”
He also called attention to the “significant contributions” of these students in Canada, stating that they “hold the promise of continuing to build a diverse, vibrant and thriving Canada [sic] society and knowledge-based economy.”
Many Iranian students also reached out to their respective MPs in Vancouver. Mehr, for instance, reached out to Jenny Kwan, MP Vancouver East, who helped a group of Iranian students raise the issue to the government and media’s attention.
Mehr mentioned that at the time he was part of an online group with around 700 hundreds of Iranians who were facing similar issues.
“It is now less, they are working on it but the problem is not solved,” he stated. “So we still think it is a targeted discrimination against Iranians, still going on.”
As the situation develops, Ilinitchi mentioned that the AMS is doing its best to remain involved in the conversation.
“Obviously the AMS stands beside these students, recognizing how difficult this uncertainty can be while juggling things like life, work and studies,” she said.
“We are also trying to make sure that we stay connected to these students ... to kind of understand whether things are moving forward or whether the delays are still having this impact.”