Amin Jafari Sojahrood says he felt at home right away in Canada after arriving from Iran to study biomedical physics.
He has since achieved many educational accolades, including winning a prestigious Vanier scholarship. Ivy league schools and high-profile institutions across the world have been trying to recruit him for years. But he loves Canada and wants to build a life here.
That's why he says it has been heartbreaking to have found himself in limbo awaiting approval for permanent residency. He's been waiting over a year for his application to be processed with no end in sight.
And it's all because he is from Iran.
"I feel very discriminated, I feel very singled out," Sojahrood said, fighting back emotion.
"After living nine years of living in Canada and contributing so much, the worst part is that somebody looks at you like a threat."
Sojahrood is not alone.
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Canada Border Services Agency reports that approximately 4,150 Iranians cases are pending security screening under temporary business streams and another 975 cases are pending for permanent residency.
The average security screening processing time for permanent residency applicants from Iran is 293 days, Marta Morgan, the deputy minister of immigration, told a Commons committee recently.
When contacted by the Canadian Press to determine why these cases are taking so long, the department of Public Safety took several days to craft a response.
When it did finally arrive, the department spokesperson acknowledged that long wait times for applications can be frustrating, but that the reasons behind Iranian processing delays are varied and, generally, the "reality of processing times is complex and often misunderstood."
"Processing times for permanent resident class applications for Iranian citizens has been longer than the international average for a number of years," Scott Bardsley, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale's press secretary, said in an email.
"However, we have made significant improvements in the disparity between Iranian applications and those for citizens of all other countries."
In 2015, the average wait time for Iranian permanent residency applications was 92 per cent longer than for citizens of all other countries. In 2017 the wait was 41 per cent longer.
As of May 1, the average age of outstanding Iranian security screenings for permanent resident applications is now "in line with all other nationalities," the department says.
Security screenings are one factor in the higher wait times, Bardsley said. Other factors include the overall complexity of a case; delays associated with requests for additional information from the applicant, including medical examinations and verification procedures.
The lack of Canadian consular service in Iran may also play a part, he added.
"The truth is that every application is handled on a case-by-case basis and there's no one simple explanation for how long it takes," Bardsley said.
He further suggested many applicants have misunderstood the processing times posted online. These times represent how long it takes to process 80 per cent of total applications, which means the remaining 20 per cent take longer.
"That's particularly significant in categories whose posted times include all nationalities, including those for whom information is more easily verified," Bardsley stated.
"Our government welcomes Iranians to Canada and values the tremendous contributions they make to our country. We'll continue work to ensure that our processing systems are as effective as possible."
But NDP Immigration critic Jenny Kwan says wait times for Iranian nationals under virtually all economic streams is unacceptable.
"These are the individuals that the government says they want to attract and retain in Canada. They are highly skilled, highly educated, highly specialized and come from the research and tech sectors," she said.
Some of these Iranians have been offered work in Canada, but cannot accept the positions because of the long wait times for permanent residency and the fact they are kept in the dark about how long they will be left in this limbo.
"It's just wrong. I think it's an issue of discrimination," Kwan said, noting many of these applicants have passed multiple security screenings to study and travel in Canada and abroad.
The government remains firm that all immigration upholds a "commitment to non-discrimination and fairness."
But Sojahrood says he does feel targeted because of his race and doesn't see the government's stated improvements. He has other friends from Iran in the same holding pattern.
The stress of the whole situation has led to a deterioration in his health. He fears being sent back to his country, where he believes he could face persecution for his involvement in politics and education while in Canada.
"My research has suffered a lot and my supervisors and other collaborators are frustrated because we are doing some really cutting edge contributions to the field," he said.
"But now, everything is on hold because I can't really focus anymore."
Do we not have a Canadian
Do we not have a Canadian consulate in Iran at all? Jenny Kwan is quite efficient so perhaps will speed things up since we really do need people in the research and tech sector.
I think we ditched our
I think we ditched our consulate last time the Americans threw a hissy fit about Iran, to show how obedient we are. Much good it's done us.