This past Friday, Shea sent a quick email to Sean saying he had run into a bit of immigration stickiness (aka “immigrickiness”). Shea is currently in Durham, North Carolina on a work trip. Sean’s in Toronto. Yesterday, Sean wrote Shea back to ask for details.
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Sean: You there, mon frère?
Shea: Bonjour, mon ami!
Sean: Hi! Long time no “see.”
Shea: Si. It’s been too long.
Shea: Has it been too long to say, “Welcome back from the tar, er … oil sands?”
Sean: Never too long to be welcomed. Thanks. That place was off the hizzook. (As they say in Alberta.) So what’s this about you getting into trouble with the Quebecois law?
Shea: Ah yes… that.
Sean: You’re having me worried over here.
Shea: Should we get right to that, or should we give a little background first?
Sean: Probably the background first.
Shea: Certainly. My gal, Erin, moved to Montreal a few years ago to teach at McGill. Right about the time we started seeing each other. Once we decided this was serious, we knew one of us would have to move. We spent a year wrestling with that question, and eventually I decided (and she agreed) it made more sense for me and to leave DC and join her in Montreal.
Sean: I could have told you that… Montreal being the greatest city on the planet Earth and all.
Shea: It’s true. If only I’d known you were a smitten kitten about Canada back then, my life would’ve been much, much simpler.
Sean: I have Jacques Brel going softly in the background over here so you know.
Shea: C’est parfait. Okay, so we decide to set up house together in Montreal. Around that same time, I was coming to the end of the Place + Memory project’s first big grant. And I was about to get laid off from my other youth media job in DC.
Sean: (Nodding head.)
Shea: I had a few other irons in the fire, but I was going to have to hustle to replace these two significant sources of creative income. And if I was going to try move up there in about 6 months anyway (that was the initial plan), it didn’t seem to make as much sense to spend that energy in DC when I could spend it getting settled in Montreal.
Does that make sense, so far?
Shea: Bon. The devil is in the details, so I’ll try to keep the key ones in. Like this one:
Erin came up here on a work permit she got from McGill. Instead of just staying here on the work permit, she went the extra mile (or kilometer, if you prefer) to apply for, and ultimately attain permanent residency.
Sean: Oh, okay. I didn’t realize that was her status now.
Shea: Oui. And as a permanent resident, she can sponsor family members, a spouse, common law partner, etc. We spoke with an immigration expert (not a lawyer) and several colleagues with somewhat similar situations about our options. And after all that, our best option for getting me up here seemed to be sponsorship.
Sean: So she’s your immigration sugar-mama.
Sean: I gotta find me one of those.
Shea: They didn’t think I had enough “points” or whatever to realistically qualify on my own for work status or any other application status.
Sean: Really? I’d have thought you’d be lousy with points. It turns out I just barely pass.
Shea: I’m flattered. But it seems I wasn’t looking for the right job, and some other stuff.
Sean: Should we explain what the “points” thing is for the people?
Shea: Oooo… good idea.
[Simultaneously.] Sean: Go ahead. Shea: Après toi.
Sean: Ti-MING! Okay I’ll start.
Sean: So, the way I understand it is that you get a certain number of points for the various qualities that would make you a good immigration candidate.
Shea: Well put.
Sean: Merci. For example you get a certain number of points if you speak one of the two official languages. (French and English.) More points if you speak both.
Shea: Right… I mean, c’est correct.
Sean: You get a certain number of points if you have a degree past secondary school. Even more if you have an advanced degree like a masters.
Shea: And one more that seems pretty key: occupation. What field you’re in.
Sean: Well parlezed.
Shea: Mon plaisir.
Sean: In short, they’re trying to gauge how valuable you would be up here. And they gauge that numerically which, frankly, seems like a strange way to do it.
They’re assigning quantity to all of these… non-weighable attributes of your life.
Shea: Right. So mathematically, I wasn’t hot enough for them. Not close enough to even bother trying to make that work.
Sean: And why? Because of what you do? And the no French part?
Shea: French would’ve helped, but I think the big issue was what I do (what you and I do). The closest passable thing I remember was teaching or something.
Sean: Oh and we should add that this process is more rigorous in Quebec than in the other provinces. Which apparently is why I pass. I get like a 67 or something, a D+.
Sean: Not that I’ve gotten that ball rolling yet but I’ll get to that later.
Shea: I was about to ask, but I’ll wait.
Sean: So you don’t pass.
Shea: Right, I don’t pass. And I don’t have an employer who wants to sponsor me for a permit.
Sean: So Erin sponsored you.
Shea: Right. As her “common law” spouse (in Quebecois she is “ma conjointe”). So here’s the deal.
Sean: I’m rapt in attention. (I’m also, simultaneously, making coffee.)
Shea: To qualify as common-law spouses, we had to be cohabitating in a committed, conjugal relationship for at least one year.
Sean: Love the “conjugal” part. Sounds so… legal.
Shea: Legal in the sense of a state-sanctioned escapade.
Sean: Yeah, legal like a prison visit is legal.
Shea: Reminds me of something funny I saw on American TV this week. Did you know that on The Bachelorette the contestants partake in an “overnight date” with the bachelorette?!
Shea: No shit.
Sean: Do they shtoop?
Shea: I think they only show them waking up together. In the words of a futuristic Marge Simpson. “Fox became a porn channel so slowly, I almost didn’t notice.” (Though this is an ABC franchise)
Sean: Oy. Are they sweaty when they wake up? I mean… embracing? (“Embracing” is another word for “sweaty” up here in Canada).
Shea: It’s like they ignore the sex part… wait… embracing? Is it really?!
Sean: No darling.
Shea: Ah. You were being funny.
Sean: In a way. But only in a way.
Shea: Back to the legalese. We have to thoroughly document our cohabitational, conjugal, committed relationship to the Canadian government.
Sean: That’s… interesting.
Shea: So our application is fortified with legal affidavits from family and friends. Joint bank accounts, life insurance policy beneficiaries, rental agreements, etc., and a dossier of our travels back and forth, including travel receipts, itineraries, and 8×10 color glossy photos of our time together.
Sean: Ah! (Shit they really put you through your paces.)
Shea: Funny story, I had an immigration agent look at the packet before I sent it in. And he advised me to print my digital photos on photo paper, as individual photos, rather than putting several on a page (with descriptive labels, sorted by trip, I might add). Even though they were never proper photos to begin with, it would look “more original” if they were printed that way.
Sean: (Sighs and shakes head.)
Shea: If they reject our claim, we’ll have been living together for so long that we’ll have an even stronger case to make to them, thanks to the process taking forever.
Sean: You guys are crazy like foxes are crazy. (You’re also both foxy like crazies are foxy but that’s another story.)
Shea: Same to you, dear. Okay, so getting that together, along with FBI background checks, etc. took months.
Sean: I bet.
Shea: And the process itself is alleged to take anywhere between one and two years.
Sean: So I’ve heard.
Shea: And because we’re in Quebec, there’s even more approval and back and forth between Canada and Quebec about us.
Sean: And to be clear we’re talking about the process of you becoming a permanent resident.
Shea: That’s right. 1-2 years before I would become a permanent resident of Canada.
But the silver lining is that once we’ve crossed some threshold in the application process, I should be eligible for provisional work status and health care coverage. So, the informal limit on a visitor’s stay in Canada is 6 months, during which time you can’t work or study, except for taking non-degree French classes.
Sean: Merde. So you’ve been doing like me… working for the Americans from here.
Shea: Oui. And I have long conversations with Canadian immigration every time I travel to the US for work about why they should let me back into the country.
Sean: God, this sounds exhausting.
Shea: A weeeeeee bit (hopefully less so to read about).
Sean: Look everybody! A funny picture about Canada!
Shea: Brilliant. So I was advised to apply for a formal extension of my visitor status when I sent my residency application packet. So I did. And I always travel with full copies of each of these applications (along with the annotated family snapshots), including how my partner guarantees to pay for my living and health care, with documentation of that. And so far, they’ve been letting me back into the country.
Sean: I hear an enormous “but” coming.
Shea: So I proudly mailed those packets off in early March.
And in mid-June I got a note saying they’d gotten the app to extend the visitor record and mailed it to some other office and not to call them for any information. Are you ready for a ridiculous series of dates?
Shea: On July 4, Erin and I left on that 2.5-week Canadian road trip. On July 7, CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) sent me a letter saying that I should come in for an interview about that application on July 16.
Shea: On July 20, Erin and I returned from our vacation to find said letter from the CIC. I freaked, then called the CIC’s national office and they were very nice about it. (I freaked because they said in the letter that if I didn’t show they’d make a judgment at that time.)
They put a note in my file saying that they were aware of this mix up and instructed me to mail a letter of explanation to reschedule a meeting
Shea: So, I wrote a letter and mailed it on July 22. In that letter, I explained that I was about to leave on a three-week work trip, so could we please reschedule the meeting after mid-August. On July 21, they mailed another letter, saying that I had a new meeting scheduled for August 5. I’m still in Durham, and Erin was down here, too, and got the letter the evening of the 4th. Second meeting, missed.
Shea: On August 5, they mailed another letter, which amazingly arrived on August 6, explaining that they denied my request. My request to extend my visitor status.
Shea: We got that letter at 4:15 on Friday. CIC offices close at 4:00. Can’t call until Monday to talk to anyone about it.
Sean: Wait… WHAAAAT?!!!!!
Sean: So what happens now?!!
Shea: Well… best-case scenario, it’s an administrative goof and we can reschedule.
Sean: And WORST case scenario?
Shea: Worst cast scenario, we can’t. I have to re-submit (if I can), and I can’t get back into the country right now, and that somehow fudges up my residency application “from inside Canada,” which is turns out is a-whole-nother process than applying “from outside Canada,” and I have to start that again.
(Pausing for dramatic reaction)
Sean: I’m… speechless. I feel like mopping your brow with cool sponges.
Shea: :-) Thank you.
Sean: Fuck, so wait… So you’re in the US right now, right? (Sorry I should know this.)
Shea: We both move around so much, it’s hard to keep track. I’m in North Carolina and have a plane ticket back to Montreal a week from Monday.
Sean: Oh, Shea. I’m worried.
Shea: Don’t worry, Sean. Here’s the plan. I need you to drive to a small town on the New York border, where the river is swimmable… (Wait, maybe we shouldn’t post this part.)
Sean: (Literally laughing out loud right now. Or as they say up here: “litrally.”)
Shea: Perfect. Immigration agents in Canada have so much individual authority that it doesn’t really make much sense to get all American agro on them.
Shea: And in all but one and a half instances, I’ve found them to be really reasonable and helpful. So I remain hopeful that we’ll find a middle ground.
Sean: One and a half?
Shea: You caught that.
Sean: I’m right here.
Shea: Once, I got reamed for trying to get one of those expedited border crossing ID cards from inside Canada. Those two agents don’t like their jobs, and they scared the crap out of me for what was essentially a typo on my application. The other time was just a thorough grilling that ended with me getting a short visitor’s visa that expired a few months later. After that, every immigration officer has said, “Given your situation, and how long it will take for your residency application to even appear in our digital system, you should just keep your app materials with you, even after you apply for an extension of your visitors status.” (And that’s the short answer to that question.)
I’m hoping for something like… they either reschedule the meeting or put an explanatory note and new letter in my file for when we re-submit. And I’m hoping they’ll help me on the phone to figure out a more certain way to get back into the country than flying in and praying some agent takes mercy on me instead of re-routing me back to the US.
Sean: So you’re going to have to explain to them your entire situation (yet again) when you get back to Montreal next Monday. Except this time, part of that situation involves your temporary visitor status having expired.
Shea: Exactly. And this time, there’s something in my file that says I’ve been DENIED my request to extend my stay as a visitor, while I’m standing there hoping to re-enter the country as a visitor, technically. It’s a little daunting.
Sean: A little?!
Shea: Just trying to keep my blood pressure down.
Sean: I mean… yes, you’re right. It’s a miniscule amount daunting. Just a mild waft of daunting.
Shea: I guess… I guess the whole process is so laden with bureaucratic missteps and technicalities that something like this was bound to happen. And we’re not even halfway through the process. I can’t get daunted. I’m there to be with my gal, and we’re going to figure that out. (Hopefully without a full cavity search.)
Sean: You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. So what are you going to say to them exactly?
Shea: I am contemplating coming back by train because that seems a little less digitally rigorous, and they might not pull up my record. But I’m such a bad liar, I’d have “please, detain me” written all over my face. On the phone, on Monday, I’m going to explain how I
didn’t know about either of these meetings in time to cancel them and took as many steps as possible to rectify the situation as I could. “How can I set this straight?” And in my greatest hopes, I’ll know before it’s time to leave if I should try to fly or if I should make other arrangements in the US (like visiting a VISA office… and staying here for however many weeks until that’s possible).
Sean: Jeez, I really hope it doesn’t come down to your having to stay there for any number of weeks.
Shea: Me either. If I just can’t tell, I’ll fly. And when I get to the customs agents at Trudeau airport in Montreal, I’ll try to bury them in a mountain of paper documents and stories about due diligence and next steps I’m planning to take to make it right, all while reassuring them that I understand that I’m only there as a visitor until they tell me to leave or stay. (God I’m tired of reciting that speech).
Sean: Yes but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that either.
Shea: Don’t get me wrong, it’s been nice being back in the States, but I want to go home. And even though it’s not technically my residence, my home is in Montreal. Erin and I were talking earlier this week, and as complicated as it’s been to do this from inside of Canada – and how much bureaucratically simpler it might’ve been to do it from the US – neither of us would trade being together all this time for that convenience.
Sean: I mean do you think that it might be something they can sort out over the phone with you on Monday?
Shea: I’m hopeful about calling them. I have no actual idea what will happen. If it’s not, we’ll figure out the next move in the puzzle. Wait… that’s not the right metaphor. Anyway, you know what I mean.
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Join our heroes again next week when we find out how the phone call went with immigration, and Sean explains why the hell he’s is allowed to be in the country anyway.