Remittance Stories: Koorosh from Iran

April 13, 2016

Welcome to Part Two of our Remittance Stories series: What do remittances mean to you? We spoke to Koorosh, from Iran, about the challenges he faced as an Iranian migrant, an international traveller and a father.

When we were in Iran, we had a tough decision to make. We knew that the children needed to go abroad – as soon as possible.

They were still young – two of the three had graduated – but they had no chance of doing postgraduate studies or getting any kind of suitable job. The youngest was still studying at high school (‘The Centre for the Development of Exceptional Talents’ – it should come to no surprise that none of the students are in Iran anymore) but we couldn’t wait.

Would it have been possible to send them to a western country to study? Only at the cost of most of our savings. Not to mention, exchanging and transferring our money wouldn’t have been easy. Emotionally, it was very hard to separate from our family and friends, and I would have to resign from my job and lose a considerable amount of income.

But there was one decision we made straight away – when they went, there would be no better place to go than Britain. I always had a strong connection there, even before I studied in England. When I was a child at school, aged 12 or 13, I used to collect British postcards and stick them to the wall of my room. I remember one of a young couple lying on a lawn. They were very well dressed, just like how you would imagine a happily engaged English couple to look. Later, when we flew over England for the first time, that was the first thing I thought of. That couple on their farm. Except now, there were hundreds of them, all laid out below me.

I’d always loved the English language and I did my best to learn it at high school. So when most of my fellow students went to the USA to work and study, I went to the UK to do a masters.

Needless to say, it did not live up to the postcard dreams. But I got to attend a vocational management training and MSc course, and made new friends. I never had any trouble with anybody, so it wasn’t long before I was back again travelling and visiting industry leaders with my work. They were such easy trips, as the exchange rate was 200 to 300 times lower than today. But that wouldn’t last forever.

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My wife and I finally settled on going with the children to the UK. We still had to work out my resignation, how we would support ourselves financially and navigate visa problems. Fortunately, I had the right background to fulfil the requirements for a special long-term visa, but the financial problems were harder to resolve. There was no possibility of institutional support, and we were unable to borrow any money.

The money we had still had to be exchanged and transferred, which, coming out of Iran, always carried considerable difficulty. At the time, official ways of transferring money were very expensive. Sending money through unofficial channels, however, was risky, and we didn’t want to get stuck with the third alternative – taking small sums with us, in cash, each time we flew.

We ended up losing more than half of what we transferred to fees.

And it was only about to get harder.

The sanctions on Iran made the exchange and transfer of all Iranian currency extremely complicated. There were no banks or accessible agencies, nor were there any ways to transfer online. ‘Official’ ways to transfer currency, offering more favourable rates, did exist, but no ordinary person or private company could access them. 

To make things worse, changes to immigration laws meant that we had to wait far longer than we expected to become citizens of the UK. Because of this, our youngest child had to wait several years before going to university.

These financial worries consumed us for the best part of a decade. I struggled with loneliness, had trouble finding a job and scrabbled around for fixed commitments. In Iran I used to be really busy, I had friends and I was well respected. In Britain I had to start all over again. We went through one of the worst periods of our lives, but, looking back, we made the right decision.

My attitude about living in Britain has changed. Britain has become a safer place to live and better for education. In the UK, everyone can live as they choose. British people are tolerant of immigrants and are used to living in a multicultural society. Iran was not a safe or suitable place for the young to live and study: society was tense and disorganised, opportunities very limited and the university education inadequate.

I was very fortunate. All of my circumstances were compensated for – because we were able to support our three talented and hardworking young children, and give them the opportunities they deserved. We don’t need much in terms of money now, and I try to keep myself busy by exercising, reading and volunteering. I also have a passion for Iranian geography and wildlife. However, it seems that loneliness has become my intimate and will not leave me.

If I can finish this piece with one message, it is that I hope that in the future technology will help everyone to improve their lives without financial exclusion posing a difficulty. And that’s why I am happy to write my story for TransferGuru.

By Koorosh

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