‘She wrote a letter to Santa to bring her dad for Christmas’: Iranian MUN student wants Canadian government to speed up visa process
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Ladan Jahankhah and her seven-year-old daughter Liana have been enjoying a number of firsts since arriving in St. John’s from Iran in August.
Jahankhah is enrolled at Memorial University working toward her Masters in Education.
The mother and daughter will celebrate their first Christmas ever – something they’ve only seen in movies before while living in Iran.
Liana has already written her Christmas letter.
They have developed a fondness for fish and chips, and Liana enjoys eating the cookie snowballs.
And they enjoy evening strolls to look at the houses brightly decorated with Christmas lights.
But most of all, it is the sense of freedom they now have that makes the decision and journey to come to Canada worthwhile.
However, their happiness is overshadowed by the sadness that Jahankhah’s husband, Mohammadreza, cannot join them just yet.
The Canadian government allows spouses of international students to apply for an Open Work Permit (OWP) to come to Canada to join their families while they are studying.
The processing of these applications appears to be secure and is taking much longer than the time frame stated on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizen Canada (IRCC) website.
Jahankhah says the applications from Iran seem to be taking even longer to process. Mohammadreza applied to the program seven months ago.
“People here in St. John’s are so nice and friendly, they are so supportive and helping international students, but we are alone and I need my husband’s support, especially emotionally and especially for my daughter because she is so dependent on her father is.” said Jahankha. “Every night before she sleeps she cries for dad and she misses her dad very much. She wrote Santa a letter to bring her father for Christmas.”
Jahankhah says there are about 10 other students from Iran at MUN in the same situation. In all, she estimates that there are about 1,000 at universities across Canada.
A Facebook group has been set up where members share information about their own situation and also write letters to the government asking for help.
“We are a large group of Iranians studying or working in Canada waiting for our spouses who have applied for OWP visas to rejoin us,” the group said in a letter.
“We have been waiting for months and in some cases over a year, which is longer than normal processing time, according to the IRCC website.
“We are all struggling with a challenging situation far away from our loved ones and these long distance relationships are having a terrible impact on our mental/physical health and consequently our whole life.”
Jahankhah noted that last month the Canadian government announced a plan to take in 500,000 immigrants a year by 2025. She does not understand why there is such a delay in the case of her husband and the many others from Iran.
She said the situation was taking a toll on her and Liana.
“I don’t want my seven-year-old daughter to experience this difficult situation because I am here to make my daughter grow up happily in a better country,” she said. “Without her father, she suffers emotionally.
“I want the Canadian government to help the entire Iranian people. All who immigrate to Canada from Iran are well educated. My husband is a computer and IT master and Canada needs a lot of specialists here.”
Jahankhah says she reached out to Newfoundland and Labrador MPs Seamus O’Regan and Joanne Thompson for help and emailed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office.
A better life
In Iran, Jahankhah and her husband had good jobs and a nice home, but because they couldn’t live the way they wanted, they decided to leave in search of a better life for their daughter.
Recent waves of protests in Iran followed the death of Mahsa Amini in September. Amini, 22, was arrested by the country’s vice squad for not wearing her hijab correctly. Amini’s family said she was beaten several times and hit on the head while in custody, which is disputed by the government and police, who claim her death was due to a medical condition.
In order to curb the protests, Iran has imposed temporary Internet blocking, among other things.
That, says Jahankhah, makes it difficult for Iranians in other countries to contact family members in Iran.
Late last month, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that more than 300 deaths over the past two months have been linked to ongoing protests.
“Every parent wants their children to grow up in a peaceful situation, not in a difficult situation. So all our people who migrate from Iran to other countries want to experience a better life, so they leave all their belongings and go to another country. And my husband and I decided to do it too.”
“We had a personal home, a good opportunity to find work, especially my husband. Now he works in a well-known company in Tehran. But unfortunately, because we don’t have freedom and our country is not calm, especially for my daughter’s growing up, we decided to immigrate to Canada,” she said.
Life in Newfoundland
In addition to her studies at MUN, Jahankhah has a job on campus and works part-time at Sobey.
She said everyone she met was friendly and supportive. She is able to work shifts that allow her to be at home when Liana is not at school and is able to take her daughter to some classes.
As an example of kindness, Jahankhah says she met Theresa O’Leary one day while riding the Metrobus.
“She spoke to me and asked me where I was from and I told her we were newcomers and explained my situation to her,” Jahankhah said. “I asked her to introduce me to the best place where I could get winter clothes at a cheaper price and she told me that she and her friend had a lot of winter clothes that they weren’t using and that we could have them. She is a miracle in my life. Since then she has helped us so much.”
Liana is in the 2nd grade at St. John’s and has adjusted well “and loves her teacher”.
“Liana speaks good English and sometimes translates for other Iranian students,” Jahankhah said.
“I love everyone here. The city is so beautiful. We are now free. Our life here is so challenging because we are alone, but I prefer to live here instead of going back to my country because now in this country I understand who I am.
“I want my daughter to grow up in a better place. When you become a mother or father, your priority is your child. Here she experiences freedom and a new life. She loves it here very much. She is a good dancer and singer and can make music. She can do all of that here easily and for free.”
She and others in a similar situation are calling on the Canadian government to reduce waiting times for OWP applications so their families can reunite and have hope for a better life in Canada.