Nfld. & Labrador

Love it but leave it: Foreign PhD students call for changes to let them stay in N.L.

After making a life in Newfoundland and Labrador, international PhD students say they want to stay but can't.

Students say it's frustrating to have to leave while N.L. is trying to boost immigration

St. John's has become home for Foroogh Mohammadi and Pouya Morshedi over the five years that they've been PhD candidates at Memorial University. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

It took Foroogh Mohammadi a while to get used to the Newfoundland weather.

Five years ago she traded the hot temperatures of Iran for cool and blustery St. John's

"I got used to it because the warmth of the people and the culture and and everything in the city warm our hearts," she said.

Mohammadi, along with her husband Pouya Morshedi, are doing their PhDs in sociology at Memorial University.

They came for an education, but now it's home.

"I love St. John's and as I said, I love the people. So I definitely would love to stay here," she said.

"Unfortunately because of very different challenges we face, we have to leave the province. We have no other choice than leaving the province."

For Mohammadi, after graduation an academic job is one likely path, but it's almost impossible for her to get in Canada; Memorial University, like other Canadian universities, looks at applications for citizens and permanent residents first — but in order to get permanent residency she needs to have a job.

Sanaz Nabavian started a petition to convince government to offer an easier way for PhD candidates to become permanent residents. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

She's not alone in her struggle.

Sanaz Nabavian is facing the same predicament. She's also from Iran, completing her PhD in management information systems.

She's started a petition to try to change the rules.

"I'm not calling it discrimination, but it's like a a problem. It's a barrier," she said.

Nabavian is starting a business, developing a software tool to help companies like contractors compare pricing on products they need for projects.

She wants to build the business here instead of getting a job with a company, making it harder for her to get permanent residency.

Atlantic [Canada] is investing in these people and then these people leave the these provinces, which is very, very sad.- Foroogh Mohammadi

Until 2015 the federal government had a program to help PhD students get permanent residency after two years of study but now they have to apply under the general Express Entry program.

But students say that process takes a long time, and can only be started after completing their PhD.

Students say it's frustrating to see Newfoundland and Labrador working hard to recruit immigrants from elsewhere, while immigrants already in the province have to leave.

"Atlantic [Canada] is investing in these people and then these people leave the these provinces, which is very, very sad in my personal experience," said Mohammadi.

Sanaz Nabavian is studying why immigrants leave Atlantic Canada for her PhD in sociology. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

The provincial minister responsible for immigration, Gerry Byrne said he hopes Memorial University will change the rules.

"If international students are good enough to study and graduate under Memorial University's rigorous academic standards, they should be good enough to be hired for full-time academic jobs at Memorial University," he said in a statement to CBC News.

But Memorial University insists it's only following federal rules.

In a statement to CBC News, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says PhD candidates could receive high scores in its Express Entry system for their language skills and education but can also apply for work through the provincial nominee program and the Atlantic immigration program.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Cowan

CBC News

Peter Cowan is a St. John's-based reporter with CBC News.

now