The federal government is easing the process for Iranians visiting Canada to extend their stay rather than return to a regime with no respect for human rights.
In announcing the measures Thursday, North Vancouver Liberal MP Jonathan Wilkinson cited Iran’s deliberate downing of Flight 752, the beating death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini by Iran’s “morality police” and the repression and harsh sentences for those who have protested in response.
“All of this is part of a blatant pattern of disregard for human rights that have been shown by the Iranian regime,” Wilkinson said. “Considering the gross and systemic human rights violations ongoing in Iran, some Iranians who are temporarily in Canada are rightly concerned about returning home.”
As of March 1, Immigration and Citizenship Canada will be waiving certain fees and simplifying the application process for those who wish to stay longer and allowing easier access to work permits so they can support themselves while they are here. In addition to prioritizing those applications, the government will also be making it easier to get passport and travel documents for Canadian citizens and Canadian permanent residents in Iran, who wish to leave and come back to Canada.
“With these new measures, we hope to ease the hardships they are currently facing by making it easier for them to stay longer in a place where it is safe to live and to work and perhaps one day to call home,” Wilkinson said. “We are prioritizing these cases to ensure that they are processed urgently so that individuals can have peace of mind.”
In 2022, the government received approximately 26,000 applications from Iranians to extend their visas.
Sid Mirhashemy, past president of the North Shore Multicultural Society and founder of ICanDo Education, said the announcement represents a great step – if Immigration and Citizenship Canada bureaucrats follow through.
He said he has been frustrated trying to sponsor students to come from Iran only to have their applications rejected because government officials worried they would overstay their visas. Without changes in cases like those, the government’s announcement would be purely cosmetic, he said.
“I’ve heard this from a lot of people,” he said. “Why should we lose such a talent? That’s what we need here.”
Nassreen Filsoof, president of the North Shore-based Canadian Iranian Federation, said she was glad to see the measures announced, particularly for students who will mostly likely want to stay longer.
But she said the government should be highly cautious in expediting applications for adults to ensure they are not supporters of the regime.
“Being Canadian is a privilege,” she said.
Already, there are Canadian citizens in the community who’ve maintained close ties and business relationships with Iran’s government, she added.
“The situation is very problematic, I’m sure, for the Canadian government but they have to find a way,” she said. “These are the people who are dangerous and they’re working with the Islamic Republic.
At the announcement, Wilkinson said the country has already permanently banned about 10,000 members of Iran’s government from coming to the country, and added that the RCMP has been staffing up a unit dedicated to enforcement of government sanctions.
“We also though, clearly, are continuing to look at people who may already be here who have close ties to the regime, as well as funds that may have been brought here that should not have been,” he said, adding that he was in a meeting with the RCMP commissioner on that very subject the day before.
Wilkinson added if anyone in the community is aware of Iranians with close ties to the regime living here, his office can pass that information to the RCMP.
Wilkinson was joined by his Burnaby North-Seymour and West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country colleagues Terry Beech and Patrick Weiler who, together, represent one of the largest constituencies of Iranian immigrants. In the last census, 16,415 North Shore residents listed themselves has being of Iranian ethnic origin – more than one third of all Iranian-Canadians in British Columbia. Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam Liberal MP Ron McKinnon, who has more than 7,000 Iranian-Canadian residents in his riding, was also in attendance.