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Iranian students in lurch as Canada closes embassies

Iranian students have been left in the lurch after the Canadian government closed its embassy in Tehran and the Iranian embassy in Ottawa last Friday. Many Iranian students fear they will be unable to obtain or renew their student visas with just weeks until the start of term.

“This puts a lot of pressure on the applicants and Canadian education providers. So both sides will lose"

Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, John Baird, took the action alleging Iran had increased support for Syria and was a “state sponsor of terrorism” because of its position on Israel. However, the government has issued no advice on where alternative consular services can be obtained and will not confirm if the students could be deported.

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 3,247 international students from Iran were studying at Canadian universities in 2010, making it Canada’s eleventh largest source country.

Iran is Canada’s eleventh largest source country

Some education agents fear students may be forced to travel to neighbouring countries such as Turkey and Dubai – as happened when Britain closed its embassy in Terhan in January. Others suggest consular services could be run through the Pakistani embassy as done in the USA.

Education agent Saeed Nasseri Pourtoussi, of Persepolis Travel, said: “If students have to travel elsewhere to get their visa, they factor this travel into their costs, along with tuition, living fees and insurance. They may choose to study elsewhere, in more affordable places like Germany, Sweden or Australia.”

He added there could also be processing delays. “If they can’t get visas on time they might not be able to start their courses on time, and this will make students and Canadian providers unhappy.”

Iran called the closure “hasty and extreme”

Iranians in Canada also face uncertainty. Those who had come to Ottawa to renew their visas this week told the Vancouver Sun they had found a note on the door of the embassy in Farsi saying consular services had been suspended, but complained of no further guidance.

“It’s just going to make everything harder – just translating my documents, renewing my passport and this stuff,” said a 27-year-old mechanical engineering student from the University of Ottawa.

Some worry they will not be able to renew their visas. Others that the move will delay semesterly scholarship payments from the Iranian government which are typically cleared through the embassy.

A UBC engineering student and dual citizen of Iran and Canada said he needed embassy confirmation of his student status to formally opt out of Iranian military service. “Passport renewals, document notarising… The majority of my issues have to do with getting exemption from military service. I can’t go back to Iran if I don’t have that.”

Iran, which sends tens of thousands to study overseas each year (although exact figures are unknown), called the closure “hasty and extreme”, defended its support of Syria, and promised retaliatory measures.

There has also been criticism among the Canadian-Iranian community, which exceeds 400,000 and is dependent on the embassy, with a petition launched today.

“Iran is responsible for finding a third party state to look after its citizens in Canada”

A spokesperson for Canada’s Department of Foreign Affiars and International Trade would not confirm if students could be deported. “Iran is responsible for finding a third party state to look after its citizens in Canada… Iranian students must abide by the Canadian immigration laws like any other foreign national staying in Canada,” they told The PIE News.

Said Pourtoussi: “Right now the market is competitive for students, and this decision will affect the Canadian market.

“This puts a lot of pressure on the applicants and Canadian education providers. So both sides will lose.”

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