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

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.”

Sarah says 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.”

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.

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

“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.”

CityNews reached out to IRCC to find out why processing times have increased in recent months and is awaiting a response.

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