Permanent residency program for air disaster victims’ families excludes international students

The wife of a University of Waterloo international student who was killed in a plane disaster in January 2020, says a federal program that allows family members of victims to obtain permanent residency isn’t inclusive enough.

Mansour Esnaashary Esfahani, who was doing a PhD in civil engineering, was aboard Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 when it was shot down in Iran shortly after takeoff.

The Canadian federal government has said it will soon enter into negations with Iran on reparations for impacted families. Federal officials have said they are also seeking “full accountability” from Iranian officials. Iran has admitted its forces shot down the plane, claiming it was an accident caused by human error. An Iranian investigation showed the plane was “misidentified” as a “hostile target.”

In the meantime, Canada is allowing family members of people who died in the disaster to obtain permanent residency. People who are eligible must be related to a victim who was a Canadian citizen, permanent resident or foreign national who had a positive decision on their permanent residence application.

Hanieh Dehghan said her husband was an international student with a student visa at the time of his death.

“I am happy for the families that the program includes … but unfortunately this program is not for me and other families like me… so we cannot use this privilege,” she told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

“In my opinion, since we are all equal, we all need this support of the Canadian government, but unfortunately the Canadian government has not paid any attention to us,” she said.

About 176 passengers died, including 55 Canadians, 30 permanent residents and many others with ties to Canada.

Program would provide sense of security

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has said this new program is a demonstration of compassion that will allow relatives to permanently reunite with family in Canada. It was a demand made by many Iranian families who came to Canada to grieve with loved ones and who stayed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. 

However, the program excluded family members of victims who were international students in Canada and those who are not currently in the country said Dehghan.

“I don’t know why,” said Dehghan, who hopes to government will reconsider that rule.

“Giving the families permanent residency gives us the security from Iranian government without any fear,” she said.

The CBC’s Ashley Burke asks Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino whether there will be some eligibility exceptions to a new policy to extend permanent residency to families of victims who died aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752. 3:23

Dehghan was in Canada on a work permit at the time of her husband’s death. She is now an international student, enrolled virtually at Conestoga College.

She said being eligible for a permanent residency would also help decrease expensive tuition costs.

 “If I were to be a permanent resident …I [would] feel security and it’s very important,” she said.

A spokesperson with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did not directly respond to a question from CBC K-W about why families of victims who were international students were excluded from the program.

“We encourage families who are not eligible under this public policy, but who want to remain in or come to Canada, to apply through regular streams for which they are eligible,” a spokesperson said, pointing to an online page about ways to immigrate to Canada.

Eligible applicants have until May 11, 2022 to seek permanent residency through the program.

The program also applies to families of victims who died aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. All 157 people, including 18 Canadians, aboard that flight were killed after the plane ran into trouble after takeoff.

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