Bring the Boy Back Home, Part 2

So, Monday morning came and Shea had his phone call with Citizenship and Immigration Canada. That afternoon, he and Sean jumped back on the magical instant messaging Wurlitzer machine to “chat” about the latest developments.

*   *   *

Sean: Shea Guevara.

Shea: Sean Jean!

Sean: How goes it?

Shea: Okay. Things are okay. I had my call this morning.

Sean: How’d it go?

Shea: The folks at the CIC are pretty friendly. (There’s actually a pretty funny message about not being hostile with them while you’re waiting). And the news was… inconclusive

Sean: Inconclusive?

[Long period of silence.]

Shea: Merde. The coffee shop kicked me offline. I’m back.

Sean: Ha ha. The FBI is on your ass. They’re censoring this chat right now, those [CLAUSE DELETED].

Shea: Nice! Real-time redaction.

Sean: Exaction.

Shea: Beauty. Have you seen the new DiCaprio flick, Inception?

Sean: Notchyet.

Shea: Okay, cover your eyes. [Spoiler alert.]

Sean: I actually prefer my movies spoilt.

Shea: Okay, so I go to the movies last night, trying not to think about the call I have to make to the CIC this morning, and this intense, multilayered, hard-to-keep-track-of plot is getting more convoluted and crescendo-ing. And in the (hold on… checking the spelling of something…)

Sean: This is so verite.

Shea: Okay, the plot climaxes, and in the dénouement (spelling checked), right when I should be feeling calculated relief, I realize that DiCaprio is standing in line to see an immigration officer at an airport and scared shitless that they won’t let him in the country!! And my blood pressure starts to creep up a little.

Sean: Oh my God.

Shea: All of the tension they were building about him was transferred right over to me.

Sean: That’s freaking hilarious.

Shea: Thanks Christopher Nolan.

Sean: You might be the only person on the planet Earth that thinks Inception is a movie about whether or not a guy successfully navigates a border crossing.

Shea: I know. I will say, they captured the feeling pretty well.

Sean: So back to “inconclusive.”

Shea: Right.

Sean: I’m on the edge of my wheeled office chair.

Shea: So first of all, I can’t call them directly, because I’m out of the country. Something they can’t quite ever wrap their heads around because I’m applying to stay there as a visitor. The 800 number only works in Canada. So, I have to call Erin, so she can call them from Montreal on a conference call

Sean: I hesitate to say this out loud. But a part of my mouth wants to holler, “That’s so Canadian!”

Shea: Just to drive that very point home… I could have also asked Erin to call them on my behalf. But when I explain to the woman that we’re both on the line, she explains that she can’t look at my specific record because it’s a conference call – even though either of us could call separately and get the info.

Sean: (Exasperated sigh.)

Shea: Exactly. That being said, she was very helpful in the hypothetical realm.

Sean: I am literally Jonesing to find out what happened on this call of yours.

Shea: Good. It’s coming. But first, more confusion. There are basically two different messages I’ve gotten from different immigration agents at different times.

Sean: Okay.

Shea: Relating to what constitutes the starting and stopping of the invisible visitor clock. Visitors can stay for up to 6 months without a visa – though that amount can be longer or shorter depending on what the border agent decides.

Sean: Border agents have that much individual power?

Shea: Oui, oui, oui. They certainly do, which is why each interaction with one is a little daunting. I’ve only had one say that I couldn’t stay 6 months. Usually, after a long conversation, they end up saying, “Welcome to Canada” with no discussion of dates.

Sean: My experience has always been fairly positive (knock wood). But that’s because my situation is a little less complicated. At least for now. (Again, more on that later.)

Shea: One school of thought says, “you entered the country October 2009 and have essentially been living here inappropriately since then (9 months). The other school of thought says that each time I re-enter the country, I’m resetting that clock and the invisible 6-month timer starts over.

Does that make sense?

Sean: I think so. Wow. So by the rationale of the latter school-of-thought, you could keep leaving and coming back into the country indefinitely and never need to fuss with becoming a resident.

Not that either of us would ever do that (officer).

Shea: Exactly. I come and go between Canada and the US a fair bit, so I’m restarting it all the time, by that logic.

Sean: And by the previous logic you’re like a… vagrant or something.

Shea: The agent on the phone this morning – who, as the hold message explains, has no real authority – supported the latter, more positive theory.

Sean: Oh well that’s good!

Shea: Right! So that was the good news. She scared the crap out of us when she explained the following…

Sean: (Expectantly covers mouth with hand.)

“When you reach the border, the officers will definitely deny entry.”

Sean: Fuck.

Shea: Tabarnac!

Sean: Taber-what-the-fuck-happened-then?

Shea: Well, after 10 minutes of calmly getting her to re-state the sentence so I properly understood what she said…

Sean: Is this in French or English this conversation?

Shea: Good question. English. And it was her second language. But the subtle differences in conjugation made it worthwhile to get things restated a few times a few different ways.

Sean: Smart.

Shea: That plus the jargon-filled legalese that they think you understand when you call – which must be a pain for them in two languages.

Sean: You should’ve been like, “Okay now state it this way: ‘You will definitely be ABLE to re-enter the country.’ That’s what you mean right?”

Shea: Exactly. In a Jedi-like tone. “These are not the immigration rejection papers you’re looking for.”

Sean: “Move along.”

Shea: Eventually, right when we were about to think I wasn’t coming home, we realized that all she actually meant was that the agent at the gate would stop me and send me backstage to go over my stuff in detail with another agent… which is EXACTLY WHAT I HAVE TO DO EVERY SINGLE TIME I’VE ENTERED THE COUNTRY SINCE I MOVED HERE.

Sean: (Laughing.)

Shea: So I’m more confident that it’ll be okay at the border. But I won’t be completely surprised if they say, “Sorry dude.”

Sean: Really? They could just say “sorry dude” and not let you in?

Shea: Sure. They definitely could. And I think at that moment, an agent would walk me over to a ticket counter to make sure I buy a ticket to somewhere south of the border.

Sean: I know this is going to sound insane given the circumstances but… you LIVE there!

Shea: Well, right! And that’s the Catch 22. Legally, I don’t.

Sean: Jesus. So… but then where do you go? Like, buy a ticket to WHERE? (I realize all of a sudden that I sound like the most spoiled, privileged, white American in the world. “But officer I LIVE here! Of COURSE you should let me in! I mean, the NERVE!”

Shea: I know. This whole thing makes me feel spoiled. And about the “living there” part… it’s a HUGE distinction for them. I’m not really living there. The reason I have all my stuff there is because I need it for my long visit. I’m not a resident, and I shouldn’t say I am. They don’t like that.

Sean: Got it. Though they know you’re APPLYING to be a resident. So they know that your INTENTION is to stay and thus, in short, I mean, not to put too fine a point on it: you LIVE there. Or, technically speaking, I guess you pre-LIVE there.

Shea: Exactly. And this is where they are great most of the time. Once you have the long conversation, and explain all of that, they’re pretty happy to see that you’re taking all of the necessary steps. But this one is worrisome because they want you to better define your visitor status, because it’s weird to be coming back and forth so much. It’s not the spirit of the law. At least, that’s the sense I’ve gotten.

Sean: I see. So they’re like, “Fine. You applied for permanent resident status. Be a good applicant and stay fucking put. That way we wouldn’t always have to mess with you all the time!” Problem being you can’t WORK in Canada so how are you supposed to earn a living? (Other than working remotely which is only an option some of the time.)

Again. Again I sound so mother-fucking spoiled.

Shea: Well that’s the thing. I’ve been lucky to be able to pull this off this way. I’m sure it’s my responsibility, not theirs, to get these letters. And I’m pretty sure they’ve been more understanding than the US gov’t is with most folks about this kind of shit.

Sean: Oh I’m totally sure that’s true.

Shea: We got a couple of comments on the last post to this effect. I loved the note about how the folks at homeland security clearly don’t love their jobs.

Sean: Exactly. Somehow too I think the Canadian border agents probably like that you’ve moved to Montreal because of your honey. I mean, it’s an extremely simple and easy-to-understand reason. Of COURSE, you wanna be with your huggable one.

Well, of course. You’ve met her. How could I not?! And they’ve got all of those great pix in my application packet to prove it! (Did I mention that I put pictures of us cooking for each other and playing songs for each other in there? Erin thought I was nuts.)

Sean: Well, I don’t think this is an instance of the fact but you ARE nuts.

Shea: I just have a few more confusing details and then a funny technicality I recently realized.

Sean: Proceed.

Shea: First, the last technical bits: The bad part of all of this is that I have to write the officer in Montreal who canned my application to see if s/he will reconsider it, after I’ve explained all of this. That officer is the only one who can make the call. I’m still not sure if I can re-apply, and I can only do that through a letter. I’ll find that out a week from Monday when I’m chatting with an agent, if not before then. Fortunately, they gave me a fax number. So we’re working on that now. And maybe through some miracle we’ll hear from them before the end of the week. That’d give me another document to take to the border, anyway. (Regaining my breath.)

Does that make sense?

Sean: I think so. Let me see if I understand. It was a border services agent who rejected your application for a visitor extension and thus that agent is the only one who can rescind the rejection and let you in on your own recognizance?

Shea: That’s right. Or at least, that office is the only one that can re-open that request. I might still be able to start a new request. Hopefully, I can still get another officer (at the border) to let me in while I continue to deal with this. So, we’re working on that letter/fax now.

Sean: You and Erin?

Shea: We’re sending a doc back and forth back now with tracked changes. And she’s going to fax it from there. So it looks like I might have a real pain in my ass with getting an extended visitor’s visa, but there’s a pretty good chance I can get back into the country and deal with it from there. But hopefully we can figure something out before we know if it’s really safe for me to try that again for Third Coast, Thanksgiving, Xmas, etc.

Sean: Got it.

Shea: Ready for the mildly funny part?

Sean: More than.

Shea: I’m starting to think that if Erin had been lazier and was still in Canada on a work permit… as my common-law spouse she could’ve just amended that to cover me, and we’d be done. Work, medical, etc. Done.

Sean: Oy. That’s more sad than funny. Or just… ironic I guess. Sad + funny = ironic.

Shea: By trying to do it right, we’ve made it harder on ourselves. No way we could’ve really anticipated that. It’s completely moot… and just mildly ironic, using your formula.

Sean: Comedy = moving-to-Canada + time.

Shea: (I’m laughing my ass off.) That’s what you and I are banking on, anyway. So that’s me … what’s up with you?

Sean: Me. Well…

My immigration life you mean?

Shea: I did. But …

I realize, now that I’ve dominated this chat, I have to hop offline in 5 minutes :-(

Sean: (Laughing) No problem, dear. We can get to me next time. The short answer is that I have nowhere near the complications that you do, at least not thus far. I’ll get into it later. But here’s more irony, I also don’t nearly travel back and forth as much as you do…

Shea: What?! I would’ve bet you travelled back and forth more.

Sean: Nope. Just twice so far. And once to Alberta. And as a non-applicant (at least so far), resident correspondent for an American news outfit, I probably COULD travel back and forth more and it would be okay, or at least a bit more hassle-free.

Got time for one more question?

Shea: Sure… what is it? (Then I have one for you.)

Sean: Forgive me for asking… and if I’m ABLE to make it to Third Coast, you BET I want to see you there. But, I mean… do you HAVE to go Home for the Hollandaise this year? If it’s the difference between maybe not getting back in etc.?

Shea: Hmmmmmm … those will be INCREDIBLY difficult decisions. and this is maybe something for my shrink, but Third Coast would be the hardest for me to decide not to attend. I’ve been worried about getting back into the country, but part of what makes Canada work for me is getting to go back and forth. America’s where my work is (for now) and where my network of friends and family and colleagues are (sans you and my new friends in Montreal, of course).  You hit a nail on the head there.

Sean: I hear you. It’s tough. In a way, it’s like… well who are you harming by going across the border now and then. And at the same time, NOT crossing the border very often until you’re a resident makes it so much easier to stay.

Then again AGAIN, one has to live one’s life.

Even if one’s life is sometimes back home in the country one emigrated from.

(Says the spoiled American.)

Shea: It’s true. this could put all of that to the test. I hope it doesn’t come down to that. It’ll be hard to work all of that out. at least, there are some potentially big sacrifices looming out there.

Okay, my last question, and I’ll take my answer after I hang up… (my ride’s leaving).

Why is all of this interesting? I’m so in the middle of it … I’m really curious.


Sean: Man-hugs back. Get on witchya. I’ll answer in your absence.

Shea: Great.

Sean: Well, it’s interesting to me in particular because I may be navigating these very waters soon. But also, I think you’re in a situation that’s not talked about all too often. And probably it’s not talked about all too often because a lot of Americans imagine it’s easy to move to Canada. Or “who would want to move to Canada?” Or “Americans who move to Canada do so because of a job or a paramour and in either case they’re fine, just a little paper work.” But it’s actually more complicated than one might think. And to hearken back to something that other American-in-Canada blogger said, in her long critique of my CBC piece, it actually IS that hard to move here sometimes. It’s not that hard to VISIT here. Which is technically all that I’m doing thus far. But, yeah, it’s not easy to go from being an American to any kind of codified Canadian – resident, citizen or otherwise.

Anyway, I’m talking to myself now so I will stop. (Notice that I haven’t stopped yet? That’s because I’m insane.)

Actually, now that Shea has left I will favor everyone with song. This is an old ditty you might recognize from a little musical called South Pacific.

“Soooome enchanted eveniiiiiing… when you meet a strangeeeeeeer…”


*   *   *

Join our heroes again next week for another installment of “Bring the Boy Back Home” in which, we swear, Sean will finally fucking explain why his situation isn’t quite as complicated as Shea’s… yet.

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7 Responses to Bring the Boy Back Home, Part 2

  1. Juliet Fromholt says:

    Shea – I’ll answer your last question from a reader’s perspective. It’s incredibly interesting for so many reasons:
    1. Immigration, of course, continues to be such a heated issue here in the US, that it’s great to compare and contrast how our neighbors to the North handle the process.
    2. Speaking of our neighbors to the North, I consider myself a fairly educated person but know very little about how Canadian government works beyond the basic structure. So just reading a bit about the process and again comparing and contrasting with the US government has been a great learning experience.
    3. Since we’re all radio folks we all know that personal stories make an issue or concept more real (moreso when you’ve met a person involved).
    4. Over the years I can recall many of my friends talking about moving to Canada with varying degrees of seriousness. Most recently (as in last night) my sig. other was talking pretty seriously about wanting to move up North. I immediately told him he NEEDED to start reading this blog. It’s really easy to think that you can just hop on up and everything all happy and Canadian and there’s national healthcare – yay! But immigration can be bitch, no matter how great the place you’re going. It’s bureaucracy, and it has to be dealt with. So I think by telling this story you’re doing a great service by reminding us all that Canada is an awesome place, but to move there, you still have to fill out forms and all that other stuff just like you would everywhere else.

    Best wishes from Ohio as you continue along this journey!

  2. Angela says:

    Shea, I also find this incredibly interesting, particularly as another American living (visiting?) in a foreign land. The world feels like it has become a much smaller place — one where we can jump between countries and cross the globe in a half a day, and I can have real-time face-to-face Interweb conversations with my family — but at the same time it still feels so segmented. I agree with Sean’s point, one has to live one’s life, though how to do we deal when physical and political borders get in the way? Or, when living our life takes us far from family and friends? It’s a tough thing, I think. Thanks to you and Sean for sharing your stories and good luck on your upcoming journey, I’m rooting for you!

  3. Russell says:


    Why didn’t we chat more about immigration issues while you two were here in the ‘Fax?

    After all, I sponsored a Brit to become a Canadian permanent resident. It worked out in the end, but she now insists every grocery store carry marmite-flavoured potato chips.

  4. Shea says:

    Juliet & Angela, that’s great to hear. Thank you for sharing all of those things. It’s very helpful to hear. And I’m glad we’re offering something useful, interesting and more than a wee bit entertaining.

    And Angela, your blog ( is fanfreakingtastic. I added it to our links a while back.

    Russell, I know! I can’t believe we didn’t talk about it either?! I think I was trying not to think about all of that while we were on vacation. And your culinary treats and company were more fun to focus on.

    It’s great to hear from each of of you.

    (More updates to come soon.)

  5. Fereshteh says:

    Hello from Chicago. Interesting to hear your take on these things. What a great privilege to be in Canada! Your status as a white U.S. citizen actually makes things much easier for you than others. I used to take the train and bus in northern NY, where Amtrak and Greyhound get stopped by border patrol regularly. Here’s a recent article about it from yesterday’s NYT:

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