Nothing makes Shahid Ahmadzai prouder than wearing his Cricket Canada jersey and helping his teammates try to achieve their goal of qualifying for the World Cup.
But the member of Canada’s national squad, and a man described by his coach as “one of the best cricket players in Canada,” has a big problem: He’s not able to travel outside the country and can’t join his teammates in international tournaments.
Nine years after defecting from Afghanistan’s national cricket team, Ahmadzai is still fighting to sort out his immigration status here.
Ahmadzai first sought asylum in Canada in 2009, but it wasn’t until 2013 that his claim was heard — and rejected. The 29-year-old continues to live in Toronto on an open work permit because Canada has suspended deportations of people to war-torn Afghanistan for safety reasons.
He has since applied twice for permanent residence in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and was rejected both times.
“His journey to get his permanent residency has been extremely long, and along the way he has established himself and accomplished so much in this country that you can’t expect more from a newcomer,” said lawyer Djawid Taheri, who has filed a third application for Ahmadzai after the Federal Court quashed a recent decision by Ottawa’s immigration department to reject his client’s humanitarian request.
In his ruling, Justice Keith Boswell said the immigration officer unreasonably assessed Ahmadzai’s level of establishment in Canada.
“In my view, it was illogical and unintelligible for the officer, on the one hand, to acknowledge that conditions in Afghanistan were ‘less than favourable’ and that the country is currently subject to a temporary suspension of removals; yet, on the other hand, determine that the applicant could return to Afghanistan and apply for a permanent resident visa in the normal manner,” Boswell wrote in ordering a new assessment of Ahmadzai’s humanitarian application.
“The fact of the matter is that the applicant has faced, and for the foreseeable future will face, a prolonged inability to return to Afghanistan because of the adverse country conditions there.”
According to Ahmadzai’s asylum claim, his father and older brother were killed in 2002 by relatives associated with the Taliban. He began playing cricket for Afghanistan in 2005 and travelled with the youth squad around the world. In 2009, while playing at the Under-19 Cricket World Cup qualifying rounds in Toronto, he and five of his teammates sought asylum.
With only a Grade 10 education from Afghanistan, Ahmadzai finished high school in Toronto while working in factories, retail jobs and plumbing. He is now an Uber driver.
He did not give up a career in cricket, though.
In 2010, he started playing recreationally and was quickly scooped up by competitive teams before being selected in 2016 for the Canadian national team as an all-rounder, excelling in both batting and bowling. The International Cricket Council’s rules allow players to represent a country if that country has been their primary residence for the preceding three years.
“I get home at 4:30, 5 a.m. after driving Uber, get some sleep and rush to my cricket practice at 10:30 in the morning and stay until 8 p.m., get home, shower then start taking (Uber) orders again,” said Ahmadzai, who is financially supporting his widowed mother and brother in Kabul.
“I have been in Canada for nine years and I’m used to this. The most difficult thing is I have not been able to see my mom all this time. I miss her a lot.”
While the immigration department acknowledged Ahmadzai’s education, employment and his position on Canada’s cricket team, it argued he only demonstrated “some integration into Canadian society” and not to such a degree that he could not return to Afghanistan and apply for Canadian permanent residence from there.
In their support letters for Ahmadzai, Cricket Canada officials said he is an asset to the team.
“Cricket Canada team will benefit tremendously with his permanent residence status if granted, as he will be able to travel with the team to play matches abroad,” wrote Cricket Canada president Ranjit Saini. “His participation is important.”
Since joining the squad, Ahmadzai has played twice against the U.S. and Bermuda — winning those matches on home turf. Canada has qualified for the 2019 Regional Finals, where they will face the U.S., Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. If Canada wins, the team will proceed to the qualifying round to become the final six in the 2020 World Cup in Australia.
An immigration department spokesperson said Ahmadzai’s current humanitarian application is awaiting background checks and medical exam clearance before a final decision is made.
Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung