MONTREAL (CUP)—After suspending diplomatic relations with Iran almost two weeks ago, Iranian students studying in Canada are still waiting on directives from Ottawa as to how, or if, they will be able to continue their studies.
According to the Canadian Bureau of International Education (CBIE) there are about 4000 Iranian students affected by the government’s decision.
The CBIE, an association representing 150 Canadian universities and colleges, is spearheading lobbying efforts to obtain information from the government on the next steps for Iranian students seeking consular services which were formerly provided through Canada’s Iranian embassy. Such services include passport and study permit renewals, money transfers and documentation to exempt male Iranian students from mandatory military service.
“At this point we haven’t gotten too much by way of official notifications on government websites or anything like that,” says Jennifer Humphries, vice-president of membership, public policy, and communications at CBIE.
“We’ve been seeking some answers from the Canadian government [but] so far we don’t have any sense that this could be done anywhere but in Iran itself, which could be a serious difficulty and impediment for students here,” she continues.
A statement from the executives from the McGill Iranian Students Association (MISA) said that students were shocked by the Canadian government’s sudden decision, and many are now confused as to the legal processes they must now undergo to obtain travel and immigration documents.
“When the Canadian government announced this closure, [we] don’t think they were thinking of the 400 thousand registered citizens—Iranian-Canadians—who need consular services. But on top of that there is a great number of temporary study permit holders like the students,” says MISA executives in a statement.
“Many institutions provide emergency financial aid for students unable to access funds in the aftermath of a situation such as the closure of the Iranian embassy,” Humphries says.
“Students are worried,” says Pauline L’Ecuyer, director of International Student Services (ISS) at McGill. The ISS held a meeting with Iranian students last week to hear their concerns and attempt to address them. “The bottom-line is really about the issuance of passports for Iranian students and that is something that the Canadian government can certainly not do on behalf of the Iranian government,” L’Ecuyer says.
According to an email from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, the responsibility to “look after” Iranian citizens in Canada rests with the Iranian government. With the Canadian government’s approval, Iran could designate a “protecting power” to another state, entrusting this third state with the managing Iran’s Canadian embassy, property, archives, and the interests of Iranians in Canada.
However, Humphries believes Canada can take action to address the situation of Iranian students both in and out of Canada. According to her, the first action to take would be the appointment of temporary duty assignments to the Canadian embassy in Ankara, Turkey, where student visas have been processed since Jan.
“In terms of students coming in [to Canada] now and trying to have their permits processed through Ankara, our understanding is that there is a bit of a problem,” Humphries says.
She attributed the problem in Ankara to a backlog of files. This could be addressed by more personnel tasked with clearing the backlogged documents and assist in increasing turnaround times.
“According to my colleagues, there was some temporary assistance provided earlier in the summer but it would be timely to add some assistance now because those students are definitely already missing classes,” Humphries says.
In response to concerns of renewals of documentation, like passports, Humphries says the CBIE is hoping the Canadian government will take a flexible approach to potentially bypassing Tehran.
“If there could be some flexibility in extensions of study permits until such time as a system is worked out that would be really great,” she says.
Humphries explained that the suspension of Canada-Iran relations also has implications for staffing in universities across Canada. A significant number of Iranian students studying in Canada are graduate students who often occupy positions as research and teaching assistants.
“So if programs were planning on having [Iranian graduate students] become TAs, there’s a real gap they’re facing now,” she continues. “This is definitely going to be an issue for the universities and particularly for the universities with large graduate programs.”