MEMBERS of North Vancouver's Iranian community say their family members have been abandoned by Canada following a recent decision to close the Canadian visa office in Tehran.
Nasir Mirlohi said there was little warning before the Canadian government closed the office, which used to process visas for people in Iran who want visit or study here. Ottawa said it was making the change as part of a wider "streamlining" effort.
Now, anyone in Iran who wants a visa has to apply through an office in Ankara, Turkey.
That's meant lengthy delays in processing applications, said Mirlohi. Mirlohi said he's heard many people in Iran are having trouble getting in touch with the visa centre in Ankara and having their calls or emails returned.
In the past, anyone having problems could just go to the office and talk to an officer directly, he said.
But with the centre in another country, that's no longer an option.
In Mirlohi's own case, his wife's parents in Iran applied for a visa two months ago so they would be able to come to Canada and help out when the couple's second child is born next month.
But Mirlohi said they've received no visa and no word on when one might be issued. Now he and his wife will be without help they were counting on when the baby arrives.
Mirlohi says his situation is far from unique. "Many people are in a more serious situation," he said. In the past, there were ways to speed up the visa process in urgent cases, such as when family members were suffering serious illnesses, he said.
Students who want to come to Canada have also been bearing the impact of the change.
"One of my friends applied about three months ago for a student visa (to come and take his masters degree at the University of Alberta)," said Mirlohi. But that friend has also had no word on his visa.
Recently, Mirlohi gathered 100 signatures protesting the closure of the office on a petition in just a couple of hours and presented it to North Vancouver MP Andrew Saxton.
"We're feeling as a community that it's a political decision that affects us," said Mirlohi.
Mirlohi said most members of the Iranian community have family members living in Iran who will be directly affected by the visa office changes.
On April 30, the federal government announced the immediate closure of visa offices at five Canadian embassies, including those in Germany, Japan, Iran, Malaysia and Bangladesh.
The move has drawn criticism, especially from those in the international education business who fear it will drive potential students away.
But the situation is even more serious for people in Iran who are more likely than those in the other affected countries to face issues like human rights concerns while they wait, said Mirlohi.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada said in an earlier statement the visa office closures were part of a move to streamline the process. Further details were not available by press time.
Andrew Saxton was also not available for comment by press time.