Many miracles have happened to Mohsen Shah since Eternity first met him five years ago. At that time, the Iranian refugee was living in fear of having his support cut off under a government program that supports vulnerable migrants waiting for a decision on a visa application.
He had been awarded a rare asylum-seeker scholarship to study a business degree at the University of Western Sydney and was studying an English for Academic Purposes course at Granville TAFE in Sydney to enable him to take up the opportunity.
An Iranian Christian convert who fled Iran with his mother and younger brother, they were detained on Christmas Island before making it to the mainland in 2015. But Mohsen found it impossible to get a job because he had only a three-month visa, and employers demanded at least six months.
“A lot of miracles have happened since then,” Mohsen tells Eternity. “About 12 months after we spoke, we got an interview [with Home Affairs] and we got the five years protection visa for the whole family – me, my mum, and my younger brother. And from there, the doors opened one by one because I could continue the course.”
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During his third year of studying business at Western Sydney University, Mohsen sent out job application after application. But despite his level of education and experience working at a foreign exchange company in Iran, he was met with rejection after rejection.
“I still have more than 35 emails. But any rejection letter I received was motivating for me for some reason. I didn’t stop trying.”
The turning point came in 2021 when he received a call from SSI, Settlement Services International, who told him there was an opportunity for a six-month contract as an account manager with ANZ Bank.
“It was like a miracle for me because not any organisation at that time would accept me because of the citizenship stuff, but ANZ have a program called Given the Chance,” he says.
For 15 years, Given the Chance has provided employment opportunities for job seekers facing disadvantage, specifically refugees and asylum seekers.
“They’re talking very fluently, and I’m just talking word by word, so it was a miracle for me.”
But Mohsen believed he didn’t stand a chance. He was one of 25 applications vying for one place in the program.
“Again, it was a miracle because when I sat down in a training room with the others, I realised they had proper English – I had to compete with European refugees from Russia, from Ukraine – there was even a pilot. They’re talking very fluently, and I’m just talking word by word, so it was a miracle for me.”
Amazingly, Mohsen was called back for a second, third and fourth interview in which he impressed ANZ with his customer service focus, and he was offered the job. When he shared the news with his mum, they cried in relief.
“That was the best moment,” he says, adding that he hopes many more employers like ANZ can provide similar opportunities to migrants like him.
“Before that, I was depressed because of the amount of rejection I had in my email inbox. I couldn’t do much – I just needed an opportunity to show what abilities and capacity I have.”
Within weeks of starting his new job, Mohsen became employee of the week, after serving the highest number of customers.
Gaining confidence and realising that he needed to make the most of his opportunities, Mohsen decided to study a mortgage course with a view to opening his own business.
“If my business comes to the point to hire, I will only hire refugees – that is my policy.”
Mohsen is grateful to ANZ and SSI for providing a stepping stone to allow him to strike out on his own, setting himself up as an independent mortgage broker in northwest Sydney.
“We are working with 67 lenders and my intention is to help others. As you know, the mortgage broker industry doesn’t charge the customer fees. We are only getting commission from the bank, so as a customer, you can call me, talk to me 24 hours, and I cannot charge you. It makes me happy that I don’t charge for my knowledge and I share my knowledge.”
After two years in business, Mohsen’s goal is to reach $100 million in settlements within a few years, allowing him to hire people like himself who just need an opportunity. “If my business comes to the point to hire, I will only hire refugees – that is my policy.”
Mohsen says he is not “a fast-food broker”; instead, he is a “fine dining broker.”
“I am holding the customer’s hands. As a first-home buyer, when they don’t know what a loan is, what the property is, how that works, I educate them. So I’m not just providing a loan amount to the customer. You need to have a seat. You need to learn from me. And if you learn from me, I will apply for a loan for you.”
“I am a servant of Christ. I am serving people.”
Mohsen is dedicated to ensuring his customers do not borrow an amount that puts them in financial hardship down the track.
“We’re doing the job together. This approach has really helped me and my customer. Some of the customer leads don’t like it and they go away, which is perfectly fine. But at least my heart or spirit is in peace when I sleep at night-time. If I give a big loan to a first-home buyer with limited income, they might have an issue in three or four years when the interest is higher.”
Mohsen says his dream is to teach people about money and finance so they can save from childhood and buy assets rather than liabilities, allowing them to retire at 50 if they want to.
All of this sounds very far away from studying at Bible College, which Mohsen started to do on first arriving in Sydney because it was the only place he could study for free.
But he says he wants to study theology at a college to be set up soon in Sydney by a Persian Church in Brisbane, Elam Alive.
“I am a servant of Christ. I am serving people. And I am learning weekly with the Brisbane Persian Church. I’m going to college very soon, once they have opened their own course. I am ready hundred percent for it,” he says.
“Of course, all this achievement is from Jesus. Without him, I couldn’t achieve anything. And, when I say nothing, I mean it. He was preparing the way for me, and I always say, ‘When I wanted strength, he gave me difficulties; when I wanted favour, he gave me opportunities. And when I wanted love, he gave me people to help.’ Of course, I’m helping the people around me in their financial position. So God didn’t give me whatever I asked; God gave me whatever I needed.”