Category: Emigration

Feeling bizarrely homesick

For possibly the first time in seven years. Just got a few WhatsApp messages from a friend who I really miss, briefly chatted to my cousin, and we’re manically tidying the house in anticipation of the Parental Visit tomorrow night. Friends and family suddenly feel a very long way off at this time of year.

This is still one of my favourite Christmas songs:


All the lyrics are good, but particularly

And you, my baby girl
My jetlagged infant daughter
You’ll be handed round the room
Like a puppy at a primary school
 – pertinent on the few occasions we’ve made it back to the UK for Christmas with the girls.
And if my baby girl
When you’re twenty-one or thirty-one
And Christmas comes around
And you find yourself nine thousand miles from home
You’ll know what ever comes
Your brothers and sisters and me and your mum
Will be waiting for you in the sun
I wonder if our beastlings will emigrate when they are older? Will Canada cease to be the supposed utopian escape and become boring and mundane for them? Where will they go instead?
Australia possibly? Or they could look up the other side of the family in South Africa. But my money is on Scandinavia actually. If so, it will still be nearly impossible to imagine a sunny, hot Christmas! I don’t think Carl and I will be drinking white wine in the sun at Christmas any time soon. But in twenty years will we be the ones flying halfway round the world to see our babies at Christmas?
I’ve only ever experienced one hot Christmas, and it was the only one I’ve ever spent away from ‘home’ and family. That was in Nicaragua, exactly ten years ago. This was our view on Christmas Eve 2008. No white wine, but a few cold beers in a hammock!
Merry Christmas everyone!!

The underwhelming email

Three days ago, Carl received a very nondescript business email, that could so easily have been overlooked. Just “re: Application #——“, the sort of thing that you would assume was spam if it hadn’t come into his official work inbox.
It was from Canadian Citizenship and Immigration:

“The processing of your application is complete. You must complete the following steps within 30 days in order for our office to issue your Confirmation of Permanent Residence and, if applicable, permanent residence visa.”

Not, “Congratulations and welcome to Canada!” Not even, “your application has been approved”. Just, ‘send us some passport photos’, that’s it. Kind of an anticlimax…
But hey, who needs a fanfare when this has been so long coming?! We are legit!! This needs celebrating, no matter what the method of communication. One month shy of 4 years in this country, and we have finally got approval to stay put. No more bureaucratic nightmares or trips to ‘flagpole’ at the border, no more expiring Health cards, no more being tied to exploitative employers. And in my case, no more “Click here to access start up funds for your new business! Wait, your SIN starts with a 9? Sod off then!”

Seriously happy about this!! We did it! Finally!!! As this blog hopefully demonstrates, it has been a long, slow, complicated, expensive and at times, very stressful and frustrating process. But so completely worth it!!

Permanent residency means that we can finally begin to actually live adult lives here. Not that I haven’t been ‘living’ here already, I feel more alive here than I ever did during the previous decade in Darlington. But everything so far has been, by definition, temporary. We survived one work permit to the next. We rent. We only use debit cards. My phone is still Pay as You Go. We bought a cheap secondhand car off Kijiji. My business partner has to own the majority share of the business that has taken over my whole life just because he’s local. If we left tomorrow, within 30 days there would probably be no official records of us having been here.

It’s a sad truth that the most significant part of “being permanent” is less the supposed security, and far more the ability to borrow money. When your paperwork says that you are supposed to leave the country in a few months time, no one is going to give you long term credit. No business loans. No bank overdrafts, no two-year phone contracts, and no mortgages.  With our new status and PR cards, we can do Grown Up things like, well, take on huge debt. Hypothetically, we are talking about buying a house here (it’s blue and pretty!) , but in the short term, I think I’ll start with upgrading my antique phone. Baby steps…

But enough financial angst! We got approved! Bring on the Prairie beer, tickets to the Pats game, toques, poutine and maple doughnuts!!! Eh??!


Yet more bureaucratic woes

Last February, I wrote about how nothing to do with immigration bureaucracy is ever straightforward or finalised. That was when the Saskatchewan  health services miraculously managed to “lose” Miranda in the system and then refused to believe she existed at all. This seems to be a common error, because this time it’s happened to me, at the exact time I am most in need of the health services! This last few weeks of pregnancy are pretty damn uncomfortable anyway, let alone when it’s extraordinarily hot and I still have things to stress about. I only managed to “leave work” last week (at 36 1/2 weeks) – but that only means not standing behind the bar any more, I am still doing general errands, marketing and admin stuff, except I am no longer paying myself to do it. On that note, I am also in the complicated situation of being semi-self employed, in that I have to issue my own Record of Employment in order to get Employment Insurance payments while I take maternity leave. Needless to say, this has turned into a complex nightmare of online registrations and waiting for special ID codes to be mailed to me, only to find they aren’t accepted. So at the moment I am living off thin air, and I really, really didn’t need any more hassle.

But noooooooooooo… I discovered  a few weeks ago that my health card – which is linked to my work permit – expires precisely TWO DAYS before my baby due date. I’d already sent off the forms to extend the work permit and paid the extortionate fee, but Citizenship and Immigration decided that they needed 76 business days to process it. Fine, I thought, I won’t be working soon anyway. But, eHealth say, no work permit physically in my hand = no new health card. And hospital birth with no health card means tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills!! So, after a lot of panicking, we eventually had to trek down to the US border again, flag pole, get refused entry to the US, re enter Canada, wait around for border control to go through my forms, then get a brand new work permit on the spot. It worked, fortunately, and I now have my new health card, but WHAT AN ORDEAL.

"The alien(s) listed below have been: Refused admission into the United States"
“The alien(s) listed below have been:
Refused admission into the United States”











So, angry Open letters have been written. The following went to the Premier Brad Wall, the health minister of Saskatchewan and our local MLA. So far, no response from any of them. Now there’s a surprise!!

Dear Sirs:

I am writing to you regarding my status as a British temporary foreign worker living in Regina and the almost insurmountably difficult circumstances I find myself in currently. While I recognise that my situation is exceptional, I cannot imagine I am alone in having fallen through a hole in the system. I wish to raise awareness of these issues and seek your advice.

Following a successful Labour Market Opinion application, my husband was granted a work permit with his employer, valid until April 2016. I was issued an open work permit to support his status. We have also applied for permanent residency through the SINP; we have so far received provincial approval for this but we are still waiting to hear from the federal office.

Despite my husband’s work permit being valid for another year, mine apparently expires  in July 2015. This is because my UK passport also expires on this date. I have renewed passport already and applied to Citizenship and Immigration Canada to update and extend my work permit accordingly. However the CIC website states that they currently need 76 working days to process these applications. What I had not realised until recently was that my Saskatchewan health card also expires at the end of July along with the original work permit, and it is this issue that is causing me a considerable amount of stress.

I am nearly 36 weeks pregnant, and my due date is somewhere between 29th July and 3rd August. As my health card expires on 31st July, I face the very real possibility of giving birth in Regina hospital with no health coverage at all. If I need any special treatment, c-section recovery time or neo-natal care for our baby, we could be billed for tens of thousands of dollars.

I asked E-health for advice and was met with utter inflexibility – in short, if I don’t have a work permit, I can’t get a health card. There is no system in place within Saskatchewan Health Authority to allow for “implied status” or to cover lengthy bureaucratic wait times.

I then tried to contact CIC directly to try and expedite my application due to exceptional circumstances. The irony being of course that I won’t actually need a work permit after July as I intend to take maternity leave! Again, the response I received showed at best an inability, if not a complete unwillingness to help. There is no method to expedite applications, no accessible authority to contact, no means of adding additional, urgent information after the application has been submitted, and no alternative solutions to my problem offered. It also became increasingly obvious that the CIC do not communicate effectively with other governmental agencies, there is a large gap between provincial and federal authorities and furthermore, there is no central body that immigrants can rely on for comprehensive information and advice.

I ask you on a personal level, do you think it fair and reasonable to face a potential five-figure hospital bill entirely because the CIC are incapable of processing a simple, 4 page form in under 13 weeks? Is there any justifiable reason why E-health cannot accept implied status? What do you suggest we do in this situation?

Our only options as we saw them were extreme: either persuade my midwife to induce me early before the health card expired (an unnecessary and risky medical procedure), or even fly back to the UK in the hope that I would still be covered by the British National Health Service (now not an option since my pregnancy is too far advanced for me to be able to fly.) The fact that we even had to consider these options should speak volumes about the gravity of our situation.

As it happens, we are now indebted to an immigration specialist in the HR department of my husband’s work. On her advice alone, we drove the 7 hour round trip to the US border at North Portal, and despite a 2 hour wait there, the border control officer was able to look over our details and issue me with a new work permit in just ten minutes. This should allow me to get a new health card before our baby is born.

My final questions to you are: why did it have to take such an uncomfortably long trip (on the hottest day of the year so far) to sort this out? Why was our only source of useful information in the whole debacle an employee of a private company, who is actually based in Edmonton? In your opinion, should anyone be subjected to this level of stress at 8 months pregnant? If not, what are you planning to do to address these issues?

I look forward to your response.




Fallen through the gaps

I thought we were pretty much settled in Canada. I thought the hard bit was over, all that painful waiting for LMOs, betrayal by someone I considered my best friend back in Darlo, the stress of being parted from Carl for a while, getting rid of the house, all the hassle of being entirely dependant on a spiteful, bullying employer, renewing our work permits, financial worries over the summer, finding more work, daycare, preschool, and applying for permanent residency, all dealt with! Frankly, I think we are doing bloody well, considering.
I got in the paper the other day!
The QC Magazine/Leader Post article

The article was nice, but even better was the response I got online:


I loved that. For the most part, we’ve been made to feel extremely welcome here, and we still love being here. The response to my business ventures has been incredibly positive as well.
(Conversely, I dared to comment that I liked the sunshine when my friend drove me across town for a work thing. It was -25C and she claimed she never wanted to be outside ever again. When I said it was so pretty with sunshine on the snow, she said “You are such an immigrant, Bel!!”)

Sadly, nothing is ever straightforward, and every time we relax and think we’ve got there, something else comes and bites us on the bum. The next lot of set backs and bureaucratic difficulties involve Miranda, and the fact that the health services don’t appear to think she exists. This is ridiculous, but sadly not something we can just laugh off.  Our original Saskatchewan health cards expired when our first lot of work permits expired. We renewed the work permits, Carl and I got updated health cards, but for some reason, Miranda didn’t. We tried to sort it out, sent in her passport, birth certificate, our permits, her old card, everything we could think of. The health services eventually wrote back and said her application remains incomplete, but didn’t say why, or what we could do about it. I phoned three times, never got a response, i emailed, and only got a reply 3 weeks after I sent it, and that only said “we need an updated immigration document” – what the hell does that mean??

Anyway, after assuming no further explanation was coming, the HR department at Carl’s work stepped in to help, and their immigration lawyer advised us that the quickest and simplest way to sort this out was to go to the border and “flag pole” – that is, drive into America, turn round, and come back again, and in doing so, get ourselves new stamps in our passports, thus renewing Miranda’s status as An Actual Person in Canada, apparently.

In some respects, it is fortunate that the US border is not that far away. We don’t have to cough up for flights or anything. Instead, we have a three hour drive to the North Portal office in North Dakota, just south of Estevan. Sadly, it is not exactly a scenic route, full of mountains or winding streams or glacial lakes. In fact, most of it looks like this:


There are small little towns with much-appreciated toilet stops and grain elevators, and not much else:


(At that one, Carl actually had to turn a corner! He’d almost forgotten how!)
As we got further south towards Estevan, we got out of grain silo country and into the oil lands, and discovered an oddly amusing population of nodding donkeys:


They seem to roam in herds around here, there are loads of them!
Estevan itself looks… flat. I was looking forward to finding a Very Boring Postcard for Mr Chapman, either here or in North Dakota to add to his collection, but sadly all I could find was a fishing and hunting magazine. “Come to Sasatchewan! See magnificent wildlife! Shoot it!”

The border is a very funny place. Disappointingly, there is no actual line to cross. We essentially had to drive round in a car park, circling the metaphorical flag pole I suppose; passports checked in the Canadian side, move to the left, walk into the American office, check passports again, get a sheet of paper with our names on it saying that we had tried to enter the US from a bemused looking but intimidatingly armed border services agent, get back in the car, drive round the loop past a sign saying Enter the USA > or Return  to Canada<, then at the next gate, we were given this:


I am intensely proud of that little pink slip!!!
We then had about half an hour to hang around in a little office with Miri eating peanut M&Ms out of a machine and dancing about as if to prove she was cute enough to be given a new status document. After Carl very carefully explained the situation, backed up by a letter from the wonderful Lacey in HR, Miranda was eventually given her own immigration document freshly printed and stapled into her passport. Woopedidoodah!! So she is legit again, and hopefully that new document is enough to prove her existence to the health authorities.

There were a few others waiting nervously in the office for similar immigration or emigation bureaucracy to occur. One guy from Saskatoon was awaiting his permanent residency certificate. We said congratulations – that is our next step I suppose. He had not been met with a particularly friendly service on the American side of it and was very glad to be back in Canada. So were we. So we celebrated by stopping at a Canadian institution in Estevan on the way back and eating bacon sandwiches and vanilla-dip doughnuts.


It may be a 6 hour round trip in the snow, it may be a flat barren moonscape populated by industrial herds of nodding donkeys and oil-carrying mega-trains, but it is so worth it if we get to stay in this friendly, eccentric, vast and sprawling country!


The portal is closing….

This is in response to the new changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program. There has been a lot of coverage of this in the press already, but unless I’ve missed it, no one has yet actually asked the views of the people actually in the middle of this program – ie: the foreign workers themselves.
I’ve picked the Globe and Mail article because it’s a national newspaper and, well, it was the first one I found. Taking out all the editorial and opinion pieces though, they all say pretty much the same anyway!
Here’s the original article:

“The federal government will announce sweeping changes to the temporary foreign workers program Monday, aimed at ensuring non-Canadian workers are employed in this country only after every effort has been made to put Canadians in the jobs first.”

– “sweeping changes” says it all. I’ve found nothing to suggest that these changes were on the cards before the RBC scandal broke. In other words, this sounds very like a knee-jerk reaction, and the Tories are just trying to be seen to be Doing Something.  The system ALREADY includes a process that should ensure the Canadians are given the opportunity first – it just needs enforcing better, not completely re-writing. A Labour Market Opinion (LMO) is exactly that – an opinion on the local labour market that identifies a skills shortage. They are only approved for skilled/managerial level jobs, and only after the prospective employer demonstrates that they have tried to recruit locally for a set amount of time, and not found any suitable, Canadian candidates.

“Other measures, to be announced either Monday or at a later date, are expected to require employers to pay a fee for a permit to hire from overseas.”

This is the bit that really, really annoys me. I can see the logic behind it: why should Canadian taxpayers pay for the system that gets foreign workers in to do local jobs? However, to my mind, this is going to severely hamper the system – both from the point of view of small businesses who can’t necessarily afford it, and for the would-be immigrants who then not only need to find a job, but also find an employer who is willing to cough up the fee, AND wait whilst keeping the job open for that person for the months it takes for all this bureaucracy to process. Even the old system was problematic for small businesses, because if you have few staff and are seeking to hire a key worker, the chances are you’d struggle to keep the business afloat during the ridiculously long wait for the application to go through anyway. As I have pointed out repeatedly, my LMO took an epic five months to go through, and I was just lucky that my employers waited for me (not that I ended up doing the job I was originally offered, but that is a different issue). To my mind, adding a fee on to that as well would be enough to make most small business rule out the option entirely.

“The reforms – which will also address the question of wage discrepancies between foreign and Canadian workers doing identical jobs – aim to reduce abuse of the system while not shutting off the tap supplying an essential source of workers.”

Rubbish. Again, the old system did address wage discrepancies – or at least, aimed to prevent temporary foreign workers undercutting the local labour market. Under the old system, a Labour Market Opinion document was only granted if they employer was willing to pay “the going rate” or the local average wage for that specific job or industry. My LMO was actually refused initially because my employers weren’t offering me the provincial average for the role.

The problems with the original LMO system arose from very large companies basically flouting the rules, fudging the applications, and exploiting the workers they brought in. To combat this, the CIC or Service Canada need to be a bit more rigorous with enforcing the existing system, and – most importantly – do checks on the company and the workers after they have entered Canada to check that the foreign workers are actually doing the jobs set out in the LMOs, check they are being paid what they should be according to the job description, and in the case of RBC, check that they are not actually being trained to replace Canadian workers facing redundancy!

There is no need to charge a fee for the application: big businesses will hardly be affected, and if they are determined to flout the system anyway, they won’t be dissuaded by an additional fee. The fee only hurts small businesses and makes the program an option exclusive to huge multinational companies. If a fee has to be charged, it should be in return for much faster, more efficient processing times so that small businesses don’t have to struggle to hold a job open for so long.

From the perspective of would-be immigrants, making the leap into Canada is difficult enough already. Either you get in on the Temporary Foreign Worker program – which in turn, means finding a job in Canada from outside the country, then persuading your prospective employer to not only apply for an LMO, but also hold the job open for you for several months – and then making your own way to Canada and paying for your initial work permit, and then going through the whole process again with even higher fees as soon as you are eligible to apply for permanent residency….


There’s the Federal Skilled Worker program, a process which can easily take over two years to complete, and which also requires you to have $12000 Canadian dollars  in cash, after the already steep fees for the application process, and on top of all your moving costs, to support yourself while you look for a job in Canada. Practically speaking, you couldn’t really look for a job in Canada from outside the country under this system, because you wouldn’t be able to tell your employer when you’d be able to start. Also, the backlog of applications for this program was so long in recent years that they just cancelled ALL the applications, refunded everyone’s money and restarted the whole system from scratch.

We started the whole process of emigrating when my daughter was one year and one month old. By the time we got here (even going through the LMO program), she was nearly two, (10 months in total) and the whole thing cost us over $10000. To reiterate, that was the Temporary Foreign Worker program. The Federal Skilled Worker program wasn’t even an option for us – whereas we did qualify under the points system, we don’t have that sort of money anyway, but more significantly, we couldn’t put ourselves into that program with no guarantees of the timescale and no guarantees of employment nor income, not with a small child in tow. You can’t plan your family’s future with the vague hope that you’ll get to emigrate “sometime in the next few years”, it’s just not practical, especially when children’s schooling, your own career and most problematically – your mortgage, are all up in the air indefinitely during the application process.

For the vast majority of people the Temporary Foreign Worker program, while difficult enough, is the only realistic method of emigrating to Canada. Watch any news program about Europe and you’ll see why there are many people wanting to escape. This article quotes the Canadian unemployment rate as being “stubbornly 7%” – well, the European average is now 12.1%. In the UK there’s around 2.6 million people unemployed: that is over twice the total population of Saskatchewan. Despite this regressive, knee-jerk reaction legislation, Canada is a wonderful place to be. If there are jobs to be done, let us in to do them.   Please don’t close our only portal!