Canada has been working hard to recruit international students and promises those who chose to study in Canada a pathway to permanent residence once they complete their studies and work in Canada for a period of time. But for one group of applicants the reality has become very different. There are currently more than 300 recent graduates or postdoctoral Iranian students in Canada that are facing longer processing times as they are told that their applications are undergoing “security screening”.
The problem is so widespread that over the past month CBC, The Globe and Mail and Vice News have all published articles about the plight of more these recent graduates and postdoctoral students that are facing much longer processing times than their counterparts from other countries.
Given the track record of Iranian students for outstanding academic achievement, it comes as no surprise that there are hundreds of masters and doctorate and even postdoctoral students from Iran at universities across Canada. After spending years studying in Canada, many have become socially settled and want to remain in Canada based on the welcome that Canada extends to international students.
These students qualify for immigration under a number of different categories depending on their circumstances, and most often are eligible to apply based on their Canadian studies and work experience in the Express Entry system. According to the Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) website, the current average processing time for 80% of applicants as Federal Skilled Workers or applicants under the Canadian Experience Class is 6 months. However, many Iranian applicants have waited much longer, many in excess of a year and some many years.
This is all the more frustrating for those who have been living in Canada as students for several years before submitting their immigration applications. The impact of these delays is causing great distress for these applicants and many find that their lives are on hold as they wait for the final decision from IRCC.
In a recent statement, the Iranian Canadian Congress (“ICC”) found that these graduate students “are unable to make long-term plans for their lives, must pay far higher tuition fees than permanent residents, face difficulties in finding employment since their status in Canada is uncertain, and cannot commit to further studies or academic positions because these institutions require assurances that they can stay in the country”.
So what is causing these delays?
The answer is “security screening” according to the Minister of Immigration, Ahmed Hussen, and the Minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale.
Security screening and background checks are an essential part of the immigration process: before a person is granted permanent residence, Canada wants to ensure that they do not have any criminal history and do not present a security threat to Canada. However, the question that remains is why screening for applicants of Iranian background is taking much longer than applicants from other countries.
This is the question that has been asked by ICC in their meeting with representatives of the Minister of Public Safety in Ottawa last week, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and a number of federal MPs.
The only response they have received so far is that the processing times of security screening is affected by how long it takes to receive information, the volume of applications, how easily the information can be verified.
Given that there are more than a thousand Iranian immigration applicants in Canada Border Services Agency’s current security-check inventory, it is hard to predict how much longer these applicants will have to wait to receive their permanent residence visas and realize their dream of settling in Canada.
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Zeynab Ziaie is a graduate of the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto and a lawyer licensed to practice in Ontario and New York. Her legal practice focuses on immigration and business law. She often works with clients to find suitable solutions in complex immigration and citizenship cases and represents clients at all levels of court.