'Maybe we're singled out?': Iranians in Quebec say delays for permanent residency are excessive, unreasonable

Some Iranian nationals living in Quebec are speaking out, wondering if they’re being treated unfairly as they wait for months on end to become permanent residents.

Dozens of Iranian nationals say they’ve been waiting more than 2 years to become permanent residents

Navid Sharifi and his wife Bahareh Goodarzi moved to Montreal from Iran in 2011. They applied for permanent residency 21 months ago and are still waiting for a response. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

Some Iranian nationals living in Quebec are speaking out, wondering if they're being treated unfairly as they wait for months on end to become permanent residents.

"Maybe we're singled out?," said Navid Sharifi, who moved to Montreal with his wife, Bahareh Goodarzi, in 2011.

The two hail from Hamadan, Iran. They both got their PhDs from Concordia University — Sharifi's PhD is in mechanical engineering while Goodarzi's doctorate is in computer science.

The two say they love everything about Montreal and want to solidify their future in Quebec.

"Surprisingly, we love winter here because we love to ski," Goodarzi said.

For Sharifi, it feels like home.

"Different people, different cultures. We are living in a smaller version of the whole globe."

Iranians targeted, lawyer says

The couple, who came to Quebec under the Skilled Workers Program, applied for permanent residency status almost two years ago. Despite the average wait time for applicants in their category being around 15 months, they still haven't received an answer.

And they're not alone.

Vincent Valaï, a lawyer representing the couple, says he's working on 38 cases like theirs.

He represents a group called the Collective of Iranian Graduate Students. They're highly skilled workers, such as biochemical engineers, computer science doctorate graduates and computer engineers.

Some have been waiting two and a half years for a response from Immigration Canada, which says their files are at the "security review" stage.

Valaï, their lawyer, said he feels they are all being targeted because they're from Iran.

"We cannot have that blanket statement — that the files are under security review. We do consider that this is [an] excessive and unreasonable delay," he said.
Lawyer Vincent Valaï and NDP MP Tom Mulcair say lengthy immigration delays for Iranian nationals are common and have been an ongoing issue for years. (CBC)

In an email to CBC, a spokesperson from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said security screenings and background checks are part of the normal procedure, "regardless of an applicant's country of origin. Security checks have no set processing time as they do vary and are done on a case by case basis."

Yet, some critics say it's a widespread problem.

Tom Mulcair, Member of Parliament for the NDP, said it's been an ongoing issue for years.

"We have hundreds of cases across Canada.… There's no question that the treatment of the Iranians, who have been duly selected, who have the highest level of expertise and who we want in this country, are in a situation that is completely different from everyone else," Mulcair said.

Sharifi and Goodarzi say they're hopeful they'll eventually get their permanent residency status. They just hope it'll happen soon.

"You don't know how long it's going to take, and this is really irritating and it really hurts you," Goodarzi said.

With files from CBC reporter Sudha Krishnan