Students, workers from Iran plead to speed up spousal work permits

Students and workers from Iran are pleading with the Canadian government to speed up processing times for open work permits for their spouses. Dilshad Burman with how they feel the situation needs urgent attention.

By Dilshad Burman

Editor’s note: The names of the participants in this story have been changed for their safety and that of their families in Iran.

For newlywed international student Sarah, her education and part-time job have taken a back seat as she grapples with the anxiety of a seemingly endless wait to see her husband again.

Sarah came to Canada from Iran in 2021 for higher studies. Last February, she returned to her home country to marry her long-time partner and start the process of bringing him over to Canada.

As per Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the spouses of skilled workers and international students are eligible to come to the country on an open work permit and join their partners. But when Sarah’s husband applied last April, his permit was denied for the very reason that makes him eligible.

“The reason for this decision was [I was considered] as a significant family tie in Canada. And that’s completely contrary to the IRCC requirement for this type of visa,” she says.

CityNews asked IRCC why a spousal work permit application may be rejected due to family ties in Canada, but they did not address the question specifically.

In a statement they said in part:

“Visa applications are considered on a case-by-case basis on the specific facts presented by the applicant in each case. The decisions are made by highly trained visa officers according to Canadian law.

When a visa officer refuses an application, it is because the applicant does not meet the requirements of the program they have applied to or of Canada’s immigration law.”

Sarah adds that her distress is magnified by the current instability in Iran. Protests, state violence and the government’s internet shutdown mean it is nearly impossible to reliably keep in touch with her husband.

“Instead of focusing on our goals and our studies, we are under too much pressure, and we are feeling and experiencing anxiety and stress,” she says.

“Every day is like one year for us.”

When asked whether spousal work permit applications from Iran will be expedited due to the situation in the country, IRCC says the government is “deeply concerned” about it, but they cannot speculate on future policy decisions.

“When responding to international crises, there are often similarities in that people may be fleeing persecution of some sort, but the immigration response may differ. Canada tailors each response to meet the unique needs of those who require our support. Although every situation is different, Canada is always guided by the same values and principles,” they say in a statement.

As their first anniversary approaches, Sarah says her only wish is to be able to celebrate with her husband in Canada.

“I never thought that there would be a day that I feel sad when I see a couple shopping, laughing, walking,” she says.

“I was at a Starbucks, and I was drinking coffee, and [thinking] ‘oh I wish my husband could sit here with me and drink coffee … just small things.”

Her husband reapplied for an open work permit in September, and there’s been no word ever since.

“There’s a lack of communication with IRCC. I know many, many people that are struggling, and they don’t know what should they do about their process, about their status,” she says.

Luke, who came to Canada as a student and is now on a post-graduation work permit, is in a similar situation.

“It’s more than 10 months that we have applied for a visa, and yet we haven’t gotten a decision,” he says.

“My wife is crying many days, all day. I am also in a very hard situation emotionally, mentally, and even physically because I cannot work because I cannot concentrate. Because I cannot plan anything.”

When Sarah and Luke’s spouses first applied, the processing time for such open work permits for Iranian nationals was around 12 weeks. That number has now tripled to 36 weeks, putting Iran among the top 10 countries with the longest wait times for spousal visas to Canada.

CityNews asked IRCC why wait times have increased, they say efforts are ongoing to shorten wait times and reduce backlogs.

“Our focus is on reducing existing backlogs, which are the applications that have been in our inventories longer than our service standards. We are aiming to process 80% of all new applications within these standards, accounting for expected delays in complex cases,” they say.

By the numbers: Current processing time for spousal open work permits (as of Jan. 26, 2023)


Country Number of weeks
Ghana 71
Pakistan 71
Oman 54
Kosovo 49
Kuwait 48
UAE 48
Iran 36
Singapore 36
Nigeria 34
Malaysia 32

The IRCC says processing times posted on their website are historical and based on how long it took to process 80 per cent of applications over the past six to eight weeks.

“Because of this, it is important to note that as we work through the backlog of applications, processing times can be skewed by outliers, in particular applications from our older inventory that were previously on hold for a long period of time and are now being processed. Once the backlog of these applications are cleared, we will start to see processing times more reflective of reality,” they add.

“Spousal open work permit visa should be different from other kinds of open work permit visas because … people are legally working or studying here, and they are legally eligible to have their spouses with themselves because that’s the meaning of family — to have your loved one with yourself,” says Luke.

Sarah adds that their spouses would be productive members of Canadian society and are not coming as dependents.

“They are high-skilled and high-educated, and they’re coming to cover the shortage in the labour in Canada. They’re not going to impose any expenses on the government, and they can help the economy of Canada too.”

Both Luke and Sarah say there are many others like them, some with children waiting to see their parents and others on the verge of divorce due to the emotional strain.

“They are having a mental breakdown,” Sarah says. “I think keeping family together should be one of the most important concerns for advanced country at least.”

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