There’s so much that’s happened in the last twenty-four hours that I scarcely know where to start. For the uninitiated, I am American and my wife, Andrea, is Canadian. I have a house in Illinois, empty and for sale by court order from a previous marriage. In August of last year, my wife and I moved in with her Mom in Ontario, Canada. Prior that we had been living with my Dad in Wisconsin, in his three bedroom trailer, with our three large dogs and four cats, helping him recover from major back surgery.
We went to Ontario with the intention of it being a temporary stay. The company I’ve worked for the past five years is based in California. I’ve worked from home every day of that but there was talk of me moving closer to the office. We’ve debated pros and cons of this over the months, but half of my salary still goes to maintenance to my ex-wife (for another 15 or so months) so the finances to do any kind of move, while still paying mortgage on a house I can’t live in, can’t short sell and can’t let go into foreclosure by court order under threat of imprisonment, limits us.
Two months ago, we made the decision to stay in Ontario and scraped together enough money to retain an immigration consultant who used to work for the Canadian government, as an Immigration Officer, Area Manager for the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, and later a district Adjudicator with the Government of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board (for over twenty years). The immigration process is kind of a big deal and I did not want to screw up something so important, even if it takes us longer to scrape enough together to have it done this way.
We had our initial consultation and got copies of all of the paperwork we needed to fill out, and we needed to make an appointment to come back so I could go across the border and back through Immigration, meet my consultant and wife and fill out a visitor record to make things official and travel back and forth without issue.
Right after that first consultation, I headed to the states for the beginnings of the medical hell I’ve been going through. That took much longer than expected. I came back to Canada for two weeks, with little energy to do much more than work or sleep, and then headed to Dearborn, MI on Tuesday of this week for three days of company meetings. Last night, I headed back to the border, expecting a smooth crossing and looking forward to home cooking.
I knew there was trouble when the border guard told me it would be a minute and frowned. He handed me back my passport with a yellow slip of paper and told me I needed to go inside and talk to Immigration. I was nervous, but as far as I was concerned I was doing nothing wrong.
The first person (Immigration Agent A) I spoke to took all my information, essentially what I said above, and told me that I have been living and working illegally in Canada. Flabbergast doesn’t begin to describe what I felt. She told me that Andrea needed to come there with the paperwork to prove that we were working on my immigration or she was denying entry.
I called home; Andrea doesn’t drive and the family car just lost its muffler so that sparked a minor crisis of car swapping. Two hours, some rude remarks and an eye roll from Agent A, Andrea and family arrived with our documents. At this point I thought it would be a short delay and we’d be on our way, lessons learned. Silly me.
By this time, the lobby had filled with people and there was a shift change. We waited a while for turn in line and presented our documents and restated our case to Agent B. B. seemed to share the same opinion as A., that I was an illegal foreign national. Both maintained that I should have filed paperwork shortly after Andrea and I married, not more than a year later. B. tells us that to immigrate to Canada I need a sponsor and that Andrea does not qualify to be my sponsor, which is not what I’ve been lead to believe. We’re then sent out to the lobby, and later called in individually to be interviewed.
We don’t know what to think at this point. It’s clear that the border thinks I’m doing things wrong. Heck, maybe I am. That sure wasn’t my intention. Andrea and I are just barely holding it together, running through the what ifs. We think we have sufficient evidence to show that we are working through the process, even if we have been slow about it. Eventually I get called in again and directed to a supervisor.
Agent B has written her report against me and the manager makes the final decision. I tell him everything that’s happened, from the beginning. He tells me that there are three options; I can be held over for a hearing, deported and banned from entering Canada for one year, or be allowed to leave of my own accord. Once more back to the waiting room.
For the last time, my name is called over the loudspeaker. I’ve now been sitting in the Immigration office for six hours and haven’t eaten for fourteen. I’m tired, scared, and in despair. I was still clinging desperately to a shred of hope but I knew, as I stepped up to the window, that the effort was in vain.
The fact that we produced paperwork showing that we were working through the immigration process, even if it wasn’t filed, was the only thing that kept me from being held over or outright departed. He gives me paperwork to sign, and print out from their manual that shows why they claim Andrea cannot support me. They say that Andrea must make at least 22k a year in order to be my sponsor, regardless of the fact that I have a full-time job, and will continue to have one when I move to Canada. In fact, I’m told on several occasions that I won’t be allowed to work while I’m being sponsored.
As it stands, I was allowed to voluntarily leave Canada with the clothes on my back and what I had in my truck – two dirty t-shirts, socks, and sundry. A book, my laptop, fountain pen, and moleskins, and that nights does of medicine. I had to say my goodbyes to Andrea and her mom and drive back over the bridge.
We’re not really sure what’s going on right now. Andrea, like me, is a writer, but doesn’t have a day job. Even if she did, it likely wouldn’t pay that much, especially in the small down we live in. If what I was told at the border is accurate, there is no way I would be able to live with Andrea in Canada.
I had a follow-up call with my immigration consultant today and he believes that the border people were wrong on multiple points, both with my legal status and Andrea’s ability to be my sponsor. She’ll meet with him on Monday and see what can be done and what timeframe we’re looking at.
I managed to get my two most critical prescriptions filled today. It’ll be a couple days before I can get a new glucose meter and I’m going to have to do without my newest medication because insurance won’t cover a refill this soon and it’s way too expensive to fill without. I’ll just have to deal with the effects of that. Work put me up in a hotel in Michigan for a few days to deal with some issues undistracted, so that is one less immediate worry.
I was heading back to Illinois next week where I have someone to stay with, for another round of doctor visits. Those plans will carry on as expected. What I don’t know at this point is when or if I’m going to be able to go back to Canada. Being separated from my family is just about the hardest thing I can imagine. The next couple weeks should tell if we continue the immigration process to Canada or if we reverse course and bring Andrea to the states. We might be apart for a couple of weeks or it could be a couple months. The situation sucks, but I take partial blame for it. Ultimately, we should have been more orderly and prompt with filing paperwork and such. Now we’ll have to wait and see what the damage is.
My thanks to everyone who’s been there for us through this ordeal. It means the world to me to know that I have friends like you out there.
[Crossposted from Adam Israel. If you'd like to comment, you can do so either here or there.]