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Few graduate students have the experience and know-how in radiation and computer engineering that University of Saskatchewan professor Li Chen needs for his research.
In January 2020, through a network of academics in his field, he recruited Peiman Pour Momen, who had a master’s degree and appeared to be a perfect fit.
Momen was in Iran.
Now, almost two years after Chen offered the position on his team, the prospective PhD student is still waiting for a study permit to come to Canada.
And, after three deferrals for admission, the university has withdrawn his offer.
“I am devastated,” says Momen, 31, who has a master’s degree in computer engineering from the Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran.
“I’ve wasted 18 months of my life and still there is no end to this nightmare.”
The Canadian immigration department says on its website that the processing of study permits takes an average 13 weeks even now, in the midst of the pandemic. Some Iranian students say they have been waiting as long as two years, and that the delay is costing them career opportunities.
“We want Canadian authorities to expedite this process and stop discriminating against Iranian students,” Momen said. “We are losing our funded positions and universities may stop taking us for future projects because our study permits may not be issued on time.”
Chen, an electrical and computer engineering professor, says Momen would have been “a great asset to my research project.”
“He has a strong CV and the experience,” said Chen, whose research focuses on radiation effects in microelectronics and radiation-tolerant digital and analog circuits and systems.
“We’ve received funding ($350,000) for this project. Having strong students like him is key for our research.”
The number of study permit applications to Canada from Iran has been on the rise — from 7,336 in 2017 to 19,594 in 2019, before it dipped to 15,817 last year, due to the global pandemic. In the first seven months of this year, the immigration department received 12,843 Iranian applications.
The majority of the applicants planned to attend post-secondary education programs. Last year, for instance, almost 83 per cent of the 15,817 applicants were accepted by a college or university, including 5,356 in a master’s and 2,106 in a doctorate program in universities.
There were about 3,200 Iranian study permit applications in the system pending a decision as of the end of September, and more than half of those applications were for a post-graduate program.
It’s not just the lengthy processing time frustrating Iranian applicants, but also the increasing refusal rate.
The latest immigration data shows the refusal rates of study permit applications from Iran has doubled from 22 per cent in 2017 to 46 per cent so far this year.
So far in 2021, 53 per cent of the applicants accepted for a master’s program in university were refused, up from 10 per cent four years ago.
Arian Soltani, who has a master’s degree in software engineering in Iran, was accepted by the Université de Sherbrooke in May 2019 and was supposed to start in the fall of 2020.
He says he thought 16 months would be enough time to obtain a study permit; today his application is still pending “a routine background check,” the immigration department told the Star.
“Who, in their right mind, would believe a simple study permit application could take more than two years?” asked the 29-year-old, who decided to start remotely last year, hoping his study permit would come through eventually.
Soltani said it’s hard to concentrate on his PhD studies and research, with his mind preoccupied with his study permit situation and facing financial struggles to stay afloat without getting paid.
“I don’t have any access to my (research) funding since I reside outside of Canada. So I made a deal with my supervisor that I’d live off my savings until I get the visa,” he said.
“Those savings are long gone and now I am basically living off a mortgage.”
The immigration department said there are many reasons for the processing delays, including security screening, the “complexity” of a case, missing documents and problems in establishing identity — and disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s frustrating for anyone hoping to begin their studies in Canada when their application takes longer than expected, which has been the case for too many in the Iranian community,” said department spokesperson Rémi Larivière.
“Every application is handled on a case-by-case basis, and there’s no one simple explanation for how long it takes.”
He suggested that in some countries such as Iran, it can be more challenging for immigration officials and the applicant to obtain documentation, leading to longer processing times than average.
Maryam Sattari, who applied for her study permit in September 2019 and is still waiting, said she checks her application on the immigration department website religiously and there has been literally no update to her file from day one, other than a confirmation acknowledging the receipt of her application.
“My profile still shows that the application is under a background check,” said the 31-year-old, who has a master’s degree in photonics and was to start her PhD program in science energy and material at the National Institute of Scientific Research in Quebec last year.
“Unfortunately, they are not able to determine when my application will be finalized.”
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