Let’s Talk About Canadian Immigration

“They said his tourist visa was rejected because he’s not established enough,” the MP’s secretary voice says meekly over the phone.

“Established?” I huffed. “But he’s a student…we have a letter from his university. We even have a letter from a future employer in Uganda.”

“Well, that’s what they said,” she says flatly.

“What do they want to see – a car, house, savings bank? He’s not even entered the work force yet. This is a tourist visa to visit my family for Christmas, not a residency visa.”

“Well, they say that they don’t see enough evidence that he’ll go back to Uganda.”

“But we’re getting married in Uganda after we visit Canada, and we’ve included letters from friends and family members who are coming to Uganda to attend the wedding. It would be pretty difficult to have a wedding without a groom, wouldn’t it?”

It’s hard to suppress the frustration from flaring up in my words. Yeah, I’m pissed.

“I don’t know,” says the MP’s office. I hang up the phone.

Tears seize my eyes. This is our second rejection in the past two months and we’re met with another bout of useless half-answers. I can’t help but feel like the unspoken half of the equation is this: my fiancé is from Uganda. He’s from the ‘poor’, ‘underdeveloped’ land of ‘misfortune and lack of opportunity.’ And, obviously, he’s either using me to get to Canada, or I’m being a social crusader and pretending to be in love with him to give this ‘poor man’ a chance at success in Canada. Is that what they think? It’s deflating news, again.

My fiancé and I are currently staying in southwestern Uganda together. We rent a home, tend a garden, a supportive family and friends, daily routines, volunteer commitments and aspirations. It’s been the place, the foundation for our friendship, relationship, engagement, and where we spill our dreams for — one day — building a home, family and livelihood together. We wake in the morning and hear the birds, feel the sun, listen to the rain, and love what we do: he studies motor vehicle engineering and I work as a volunteer coordinator and writer. We’re very happy here. Our life in Uganda is rich in so many ways.

I know his grandparents, who raised him, his uncle and aunt, his six sisters and one brother and love them as family. They’ve opened their arms and minds to accepting me into their family, even though I am very different. I’ve seen the house where he was raised, the palm tree under which his great-grandmother, according to Lugbara culture, buried his umbilical cord after he was born. It stands ten meters tall. It was important see where he was born.

We are connected to Uganda, together.

I long to show my fiancé where I grew up, too. My parents also raised me with a connection to the land: to the rolling hills of northern Alberta and the long golden flats of the Saskatchewan prairies. I have an incredible community of friends and loved ones back home whom I want him to meet and love as his own community, too. I have a history, stories and memories back home that have shaped me into the woman I am today.

I want him to meet and laugh and share with people I consider my truest friends. I want him to meet my brother, Brendan. In Lugbara culture, the approval and acceptance by brothers plays a crucial role in marriage and partnership. I want Brendan to know and love Atayo. I also long for my fiancé to know my 92-year old grandfather, someone I haven’t seen in two years now, someone who has been a cheeky, outspoken and tender role model to me since I was a young girl. These are the people who made me, me.

When we started applying for my fiancé’s tourist visa a few months ago, I knew enough to know that it would be challenging, but it’s been way beyond that. It’s absorbed an incredible amount of time, creative thought, energy, money and focus. We’ve done our best to prove to the government that we have a genuine relationship, we have a plane ticket, a host family and financial support in Canada, an itinerary, written support from both our Canadian and Ugandan communities, and, most importantly, a plan to go back to Uganda after our visit in Canada. Yet, even as a tourist, my fiancé is not welcome in Canada.

Not until he’s “established” – whatever that word means to Canadian Immigration, anyways.

“Don’t take it personally, it’s just the way it is, keep trying,” people tell me.

It’s hard not to, though. And of course, we’ll continue chipping at the gates of Canadian Immigration with all the documentation, evidence and support that’s required. I’m a writer and a fighter; it’s not like I haven’t been rejected before. We’ll try, try, (with all our resources and persuasion) again. And again. And…

ICWA Forum Protests in Canada

ICWA Forum Protests in Canada

But the more I hear and read about other people’s immigration struggles, the wider my eyes open about the changes that have happened (rather silently) to Canadian Immigration over the recent years, particularly under the leadership of the current Conservative government.

“Canada’s once path-breaking immigration policies are being transformed into a system that mainly serves employers, treating immigrants not as future citizens or members of Canadian communities and families but merely as convenient or cheap labour. This is a clear shift from previous policy,” Morton Beiser and Harold Bauder recently wrote in Toronto’s The Star.

Look at the Conservative’s great idea of ‘temporary foreign workers’:

“There used to be another word for temporary foreign workers. They were called immigrants. [They] built Canada,” wrote Rick Salutin, plainly.

Right. Let’s all not forget that Canada was a country built by immigrants. The majority of Canadians are immigrants. Stats Can (2011) reported that only 4.3% of Canadians had an Aboriginal identity in 2011. That makes the rest of us immigrants – first, second, third, fourth generation immigrants. We aren’t so old on Canadian soils that were wrongfully taken from First Nations groups from the get-go to forget history.

Unfortunately, Immigration’s ‘temporary foreign workers’ scheme has degraded the limited rights that ‘immigrants’ had to begin with.

“[Temporary foreign workers] have no stake in the country and are insecure, so they work for less. If they were immigrants and not TFWs, they wouldn’t do that. This policy isn’t a law of nature that you can’t repeal, or an innate instinct among “true” Canadians,” (Salutin, May 2014).

Canadian doctors for refugee care protest

Canadian doctors for refugee care protest

Look at the Conservative’s latest attack on refugee support in Canada:

“A Conservative MP’s private member bill is quietly making its way through the legislature and, if passed, could exclude refugees from accessing any social assistance.

Bill C-585, which is before Parliament for second reading later this month, would allow provinces to individually impose residency requirements for eligibility for social assistance benefits and restrict access to those benefits by refugees,” explains Nicholas Keung.

Aside from Canadian Immigration threatening to cut support to refugees, many who flee persecution and arrive in Canada with next to nothing, the very number of refugees allowed into the country has shrunk, dramatically:

“…as a result of recent changes Ottawa made to restrict and expedite refugee processing, the number of claims received has plummeted to less than 10,000 in 2013, from a peak of 40,000 a year. As of June 2014, only 5,872 claims had been made this year,” (Keung, Sept. 14, 2014).

Now let’s take a look at the Conservative’s attack on family sponsorship:

“Canada’s 1967 immigration act emphasized the importance of family by ensuring that immigrants could sponsor a spouse, dependent children, parents, and grandparents. This policy cornerstone is now under attack.

In 2012, the government placed a two-year moratorium on the sponsorship of parents and grandparents. Although the moratorium was lifted earlier this year, a dramatically different system now requires a 30-per-cent higher minimum income from immigrant families who wish to sponsor people. Whereas immigrants were previously required to support sponsored family members for 10 years, the new requirement is for 20 years. In addition, the number of permitted sponsorships is capped at 5,000 per year,” (Beiser and Bauder, 2014).”

Sighhhhh. The whole act of applying for a simple tourist visa to “come home for Christmas” with my lovely fiancé has opened up my eyes to so much more. It’s impossible not to think of our future together and worry about the huge barriers (erected by the Conservative government and immigration) that we will most certainly face in the next five, ten, twenty years of our life together. I am worried, as I know many other people are worried.

“The Conservative government has not only made it more difficult to enter Canada, but also to stay and become a citizen.

Citizenship Bill C-24, currently before Parliament, increases the residency requirement from three to four years, triples the application fee, removes the right to appeal a negative citizenship decision, revokes citizenship from naturalized persons if an official believes that the person never intended to live in Canada…

…Radical change to immigration policy, so definitive of Canada’s identity, should require full and transparent national debate,” (Beiser and Bauder, 2014).

So let’s talk about Canadian Immigration, shall we?

Let’s not be blindsided by what’s happening (rather silently) in Canada today.

Let’s continue to voice our frustrations with the system that strips the dignity from applicants (and their families), and sees them only as laborers, sees their worth reflected only in their bank accounts, sees them as “immigrant threats” to Canada, the very country and current government and public and private institutions that were built by international immigrants. If only policy maker’s grandparents or great grandparents were alive today to remind them of their own humble roots.

I have been stewing quietly over the past month about how it feels to be outside the gates of Canadian Immigration, how it feels to be rejected on vague premises of being “un-established”. I have more empathy and understanding, now, for those people who’ve been rejected by the system and have struggled against it for many more years than we have. For us, it’s just the beginning, but for others – it’s become a daily, yearly struggle. To them, I am sorry I did not realize how bad it really was and I am sorry I didn’t learn more about it.

Today, from what I’ve heard, read and learned, first-hand, I am pushed to state my dissatisfaction, as a Canadian citizen, of the radically changed immigration system, under the Conservative’s leadership. And I won’t shut up about it, either, just as I won’t stop trying to come to Canada with my Ugandan fiancé for Christmas this year, or next year, or the year after that, if that’s what it takes. He is a good man, a person of dignity and deserves far better from the country where I was born and raised.

As do many, many other people shut out by an increasingly unjust, inequitable system.

Thanks for listening and lending your voice against the system, too.

One Comment:

  1. Has anything different come from this since this was written? I’m in a similar situation and would love your advice.

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