As Iran is grappling with a dire economic situation, with an increasing number of businesses closing down amid soaring inflation and the weakening of the national currency, many educated Iranians are relocating to bigger cities to find better earning opportunities.
Seyed Ali is among the hundreds of those who have migrated to Tehran in the hope of finding a job.
He wanders the highways and streets of the capital city, carrying a piece of cardboard reading: "Brother! I’m Iranian. I have been unemployed for 20 months, and my family thinks that I have a modest job. Is there any other work left for me? Thank you so much, my dear friends. Please keep the less fortunate in your prayers. I can also do household jobs."
Many educated Iranians, like Seyed Ali, resort to working as domestic helpers and street vendors because they are unable to secure decent jobs.
Despite government claims regarding decreasing unemployment, the reality painted by official data tells a different story.
A report by the financial news website Eco Iran compared the unemployment situation and job creation between 2021 and 2022.
"The rate of unemployment in the urban areas of the country increased in the winter of last year compared to the winter of 2021, while during the same period of time unemployment in the villages decreased,” the report said.
However, this decrease is not indicative of job creation in the rural areas, but it is rather a result of individuals leaving the rural labor market.
According to the report, the average unemployment rate in Iran stands at 40 percent among individuals above the age of 15.
Many rural residents decide to leave their homes and families behind and move to big cities for various reasons, including consecutive years of drought and challenges associated with agriculture.
Tehran is the preferred destination for those seeking employment opportunities.
With a university degree in his pocket, Nader left his village near the western city of Kermanshah to settle in the capital, where he works as a house cleaner.
After completing his studies and mandatory military service, Nader returned to his village in the hope of establishing an internet-based selling business, but slow internet connection and other obstacles hindered his efforts.
"I lived in Kermanshah for some time, hoping to start a business there using borrowed money,” he says. “Unfortunately, the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent economic downturn depleted my limited capital. Eventually, I had no choice but to migrate to Tehran to repay my debts and cover my daily living expenses."
Nader is employed by a service company and earns approximately 500,000 tomans ($10) for six hours of work as a house cleaner.
“Out of this amount, 350,000 tomans ($7) go to me, while the remaining 150,000 tomans ($3) are withheld by the company,” he says.
"In order to make ends meet, I have to reside in a cramped eight-bed room in a boarding house on Ferdowsi Street and pay a monthly rent of 700,000 tomans ($14). The cost of living in this city is overwhelming. After paying for food, transportation and bills, there is hardly anything left at the end of the month. Therefore, I’m compelled to continue working in Tehran to repay my debts."
According to the official Statistics Center of Iran, Kermanshah province holds the distinction of having the highest unemployment rate in the country.
The current unemployment rate there stands at 14.2 percent. Unemployment exceeds 10 percent in seven other Iranian provinces.
Iranian women also face increasing difficulties in finding jobs.
Mona holds a master's degree in psychology, but she has been unable to find employment in her hometown of Lahijan, near the Caspian Sea.
For the past three years, she has been working as a marketer of health and cosmetic products in Tehran.
To make ends meet, this young woman shares an apartment with three of her friends in a central neighborhood.
"Given my income and expenses, achieving financial independence feels impossible to achieve," says Mona.