The students described the delay as a “nightmare” and said it has left them unable to plan for the future.
Hediehsadat Emam Mian is one of them. Having completed her undergraduate studies in Iran, Mian was offered a fully-funded place to study electrical engineering at Polytechnique Montreal, due to begin in autumn 2021.
Mian applied for her study permit in April 2021, expecting to wait 12 weeks for a decision – the average visa processing time, according to the Canadian immigration department’s (IRCC) website.
But Mian is still waiting to hear whether or not her study permit has been approved.
She said she has continuously contacted IRCC to ask for any information but only ever receives generic responses stating that her application is going through background checks and that the department cannot determine when these will be finished.
Mian has deferred her place three times, but is doubtful that the university will continue to let her delay.
“We cannot imagine what will happen in our future,” Mian said of herself and the other Iranian students in the same situation. “My greatest wish was to be a good professor and continue my studies at a prestigious university”.
Canada has become an increasingly popular destination for Iranian students – 11,935 Iranian students were granted study permits in 2021, up from 9,680 in 2019 and 7,035 in 2018.
But the lack of diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran can make applying as an Iranian student complicated – Mian had to travel to Turkey for biometric testing for her application as there is no Canadian embassy in Iran.
Niloofar Rastegar, who also holds an offer for a fully-funded PhD place at Polytechnique Montreal, believes that the situation is making Canadian professors “pessimistic” about offering places to Iranian students.
“I don’t know if I can do this process again. This situation is really frustrating,”
She has been waiting since May 2021 for a decision on her study permit and has been forced to defer her place twice.
Like Mian, Rastegar said her supervisors have been supportive but that she is unsure whether the university will continue to let her defer.
“I lose my position and I think I lose everything,” Rastegar said, explaining that her IELTS qualification has now expired and, if she applied for other countries, she would need to “start from the beginning”.
“It takes me about two years to do this and get a position in Canada and I don’t know if I can do this process again. This situation is really frustrating,” Rastegar said.
“Last year, when I received my admission and I submitted my [study permit] application, I sold my furniture, I sold my car and I was prepared to go to Canada to start my education.”
The Canadian authorities are currently attempting to process a visa backlog of over 2.1 million applications, meaning many students are facing delays.
But IRCC said it had processed a record number of applications between January and April 2022 and continues to advise that the average visa processing time is 12 weeks.
An IRCC spokesperson told The PIE News that they cannot comment on individual cases but that “all study permit applications from around the world are assessed equally and against the same criteria, regardless of the country of origin”.
“Generally speaking, the time it takes to process an application varies according to a number of factors, including the type of application being submitted, how well and how quickly applicants respond to requests from IRCC, including giving their biometrics, to provide additional information, how easily IRCC can verify the information provided, and the complexity of the application,” the spokesperson said.
The Iranian students started a petition to draw attention to the issues they are facing, which now has over 17,000 signatures.
“After one year, it is our right to know what will happen in our future”, Mian said.“It is so complicated, I want to cry. I want to scream.”