Separated for years, Iranian couples have endured Canada’s heartbreaking immigration delays

Sonia, whose surname CBC has agreed to withhold due to security concerns in Iran, is seen alongside her husband on their wedding day.  The couple have been separated for years because of delays in processing their application for a spousal permanent residence permit in Canada.  (Submitted by Sonia - photo credit)

Sonia, whose last name CBC has agreed to withhold due to security concerns in Iran, is seen alongside her husband on their wedding day. The couple have been separated for years because of delays in processing their application for a spousal permanent residence permit in Canada. (Submitted by Sonia – photo credit)

One spouse in Canada, the other abroad – for years.

For a group of Iranian nationals, the wait to live together — let alone hugs and kisses — has been achingly long as they wait years for Canada to process their permanent residency (PR) applications.

They say Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has failed them with “unreasonably long” delays and, in some cases, denial of their visitor visas, keeping them physically separated for years.

“They don’t care about us,” said Azadeh, one of the applicants. “Enough is enough… Please do something.”

We’ve waited five years to get together, to be with each other. So if that’s not love, what’s your definition of love? – Hamidreza, asked by IRCC to prove the “authenticity” of his marriage

This group of 55 couples banded together via social media over similar experiences of stuck applications. Several of the couples – and some outside the group seeking spousal work permits – told CBC News that being forced to live apart for years has led to fertility problems and financial difficulties.

Some say they take antidepressants and even discuss divorce because the marriage is strained.

IRCC’s own estimator for turnaround time says spousal sponsorship should take around 16 months, but some couples say they have been in limbo for years.

Meanwhile, protests erupted in Iran and around the world last September after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was arrested by morality police for being “inappropriately dressed”.

Iran has executed its own citizens as unrest continues into the new year. Iranians have been targeted and monitored by the regime inside and outside the country – even in Canada, where the CSIS has confirmed ongoing investigations into “deadly threats to Canadians” from Iran.

Emrah Gurel/The Associated Press

Emrah Gurel/The Associated Press

That’s why the group says it’s vital for IRCC to act quickly on their files, which they say are stuck at Turkey’s visa office in Ankara, and that’s why CBC has agreed to use the surnames for this story interviewed Iranian nationals not to publish.

“We are afraid to go back to Iran to be with our family and spouses because we are afraid of being arrested, tortured or executed,” said Alex, who is awaiting the processing of his wife’s PR application. He is in BC while she is in Iran.

“It’s real. It’s happening,” Alex said.

IRCC declined an interview, but in a written statement, a spokesman said the department was “deeply concerned” about the people affected by the situation in Iran and said family reunification was a priority for the government.

But the group’s petition — a letter signed by all 110 people and addressed to Immigration Secretary Sean Fraser on Jan. 9, 2023, demanding a grace period or answers — was ignored.

Fraser’s office did not do so, despite repeated requests from CBC for comment on the letter.

The longest wait: 5 years apart

At two years and seven months, Hamidreza and his wife have the longest wait time of this group.

They have been separated since 2018. Their first spousal application was rejected, so they applied again in July 2020.

Through an interpreter from Kerman, Iran, Hamidreza told CBC the stress of this process is having serious health implications for his wife, a Quebec hairdresser. He said the mental health impact is causing both to struggle in their careers.

“I can’t concentrate on anything. I’ve even had problems financially. I can’t work properly,” said Hamidreza in Persian.

“At the end of the conversation [with my wife]the only thing that remains are the wet eyes.”

CLOCK | Applicant Shares Desperate Request From Iran:

The process was not easy for the couple this second time. An IRCC email to Hamidreza in April 2022 questions the “authenticity of your relationship” and urges the couple to provide further evidence.

“We’ve waited five years to get together, to be with each other. So if that’s not love, what’s your definition of love?” he said. “I lost almost everything.”

$30,000 for fertility treatments

Sonia worries that she and her husband may never have children together.

Sonia has been waiting two years and two months for her husband’s PR application to join her in BC. The couple, longtime family friends who grew up in Iran, married in October 2021 following COVID delays and filed for his PR shortly thereafter.

I don’t want to lose the chance to be a mom forever. – Sonia, spouse’s PR sponsor

The couple, now in their 40s, has spent about $30,000 at fertility clinics. They have tried to create a viable embryo by sending samples between BC and Germany where he lives.

“At my age, 40, even a day is important,” said Sonia.

“We want to have a child. We want to start our lives,” she said. “I don’t want to lose the chance to be a mother forever.”

Submitted by Sonya

Submitted by Sonya

Sonia moved to Canada about a decade ago. Though she’s built a successful career and life here, she says it’s lonely here without her partner.

“I love him and I want to spend the rest of my life with him,” she said.

The thought of quitting her job, selling her house and moving abroad has crossed her mind.

“I’ve worked very hard … I don’t want to give up everything here and then move,” she said. “But eventually, if I have to, I have to.”

Submitted by Sonya

Submitted by Sonya

Daughter ‘cries all the time’

Azadeh says being separated from her husband for almost four years has had a devastating effect on her daughter.

Azadeh and her daughter, who live near Toronto, arrived as refugees in 2019 and received PR shortly after. Her husband lives in Tehran.

“She’s really looking for her father. And then you ask me, ‘Why does everyone have a father? … Mom, what happened to my father? Did you apply for my dad?’” Azadeh said. “She starts crying all the time now.”

Her husband’s visitor visa applications have been denied twice during the pandemic, even with a doctor’s note detailing her daughter’s depression and anxiety disorder resulting from the breakup.

Azadeh says her daughter is now seeing a psychologist.

Submitted by Azadeh

Submitted by Azadeh

Azadeh says she feels let down by the Canadian government. Still, she has a plea for IRCC officials and workers.

“Please, please do something about our applications. We need [to] have our family together,” Azadeh said.

Iranian approval rating 90%: IRCC

IRCC declined an interview.

In an email, spokeswoman Isabelle Dubois noted that the department’s approval rating for Iranian spouses and children seeking PR was 90 percent in 2022.

Dubois wrote that despite delays due to COVID-19, the department has implemented measures such as digitization, remote processing, and remote interviewing to expedite spousal sponsorship applications.

She said visas could be denied on a case-by-case basis.

“Family reunification is a fundamental pillar and priority,” Dubois wrote. “[IRCC] is working to process applications for permanent residence in a timely manner.”

IRCC confirmed that the recent earthquake in Turkey’s south-eastern region had “no impact” on its processes, nor will it cause any delays at its visa office in Ankara.

Fraser’s office declined an interview and did not explain why he ignored the petition sent to him over a month ago, signed by all 110 Iranian applicants.


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