Early last month, Mohammad Owlia, a University of Toronto (U of T) graduate, was denied the opportunity to work for the global company Amazon due to his Iranian Citizenship status. 

According to CTV News, Owlia received an email from a recruiter in Seattle on behalf of Amazon asking him to apply for a software engineering position in Toronto. Owlia described his over-the-phone interview with the company as an unusual experience when they brought up his Iranian citizenship.

Amazon is a large online retailer based in Seattle, Washington, in addition to its many locations across North America.

While reading through Owlia’s resume, the recruiter paused and apologized for being unaware of Owlia’s Iranian citizenship. He proceeded to question whether Owlia had a current Canadian citizenship or permanent Canadian residence. When Owlia responded “no,” the recruiter followed up by stating that they “are being instructed not to hire any Iranians.”

Owlia has a post-graduation work permit which allows him to apply for jobs in Canada for up to three years. He is also planning to apply for a permanent citizenship through the “Canadian Experience Class route,” which requires him to obtain skilled work experience in Canada for at least a year in his related field.

Owlia made his concerns about being discriminated against clear to the recruiting officer.

The young man told CTV News that the recruiter suggested he apply for the job position again once he gets a Canadian citizenship and reassured him that she is just following orders regarding his application denial.

The recruiter’s claim is backed by the fact that Amazon is a United States (U.S.) based company and therefore must comply with the U.S. regulations on export control laws and policies. This includes refraining from sharing software and technology to “Embargoed Country Persons,” which to U.S. policies includes individuals who are current citizens of Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria.

Without the authorization from U.S. government officials, Amazon is prohibited from importing or exporting any information regarding software codes and technology to countries that the U.S. has placed a trade ban on. The U.S placed an embargo on Iran in the mid 1990’s and lifted it by the year 2016, however in 2018 the ban was reinstated by the Trump administration.

According to CTV News, Amazon responded to these discriminatory allegations by stating that, “it is Amazon’s policy to comply with U.S. export control laws and regulations.”

“This policy applies globally to every Amazon business in every country where Amazon operates, including Canada. In keeping with this policy, Amazon employs many Iranians in our offices around the world, but only when we are legally authorized to do so” stated an Amazon spokesperson to CTV News.

Students at U of T like Sameer Dhami, an economic specialist student at UTM, find this news shocking and disappointing.

“I don’t think that it’s fair to restrict certain individuals on what jobs they can apply for or have based on their citizenship, especially in Canada,” said Dhami. “This is the first time that I am hearing of these laws and it is extremely unsettling.”

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