Category: Emigration

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??!

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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”
THIS IS WHAT I WAS REDUCED TO!!!!
THIS IS WHAT I WAS REDUCED TO!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

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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:

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

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(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:

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/jobs/ottawa-set-to-unveil-sweeping-changes-to-foreign-workers-program/article11601857/

“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….

OR,

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!

 

 

 

Canuckiversary Part 2 – Silliness

Look what we found!!!

The Giant Coffee Pot of Davidson. Suitable for my usual Monday intake.

We had a lovely trip away this weekend up to Saskatoon and beyond, and the car survived the whole journey with nothing falling off it. We passed the Giant Coffee Pot (7.2m high) in Davidson as our halfway point to let a moaning-Miri out of the car for a stretch, spent the night in a nice B&B in Saskatoon and attempted to visit one of my Twitter friends in a coffee shop there (and missed him, but the coffee was still good!). The next day we went to Wanuskewin Heritage Park, followed imaginary  bison around the river valley, played Pooh sticks in the river, Miranda got fascinated by different shapes and sizes of animal poo, we ate bannock bread and bison burgers, and then had a go at hoop dancing! And finally, finally, Spring has Sprung, and it was warm and sunny all weekend. Perfect! [ed: that was, until this morning when we woke up to another 3 inches of snow and -4 degrees AGAIN aaaaaaargh!]

It was good to have a little trip away, even if it was just one weekend, and one night outside Regina. Other than one trip to Moose Jaw and Regina Beach when my parents visited last June, we haven’t left Regina since we got here. I love this city but I still want to explore a little more!

So, we have officially been here a year – actually, a year and three and a half weeks now. The week of the actual Canuckiversary (I still love that word) we arranged a Skype party and managed to talk to most of our friends in the UK. The “conversation” ranged from madness, flat unicorns, Thor/monkey porn, phantom cement mixers, skeleton motorbikes, noisy typing, Dave’s Mum’s TV, Eric the parrot and Rodney the raven, brownie-making, “giving Carmen’s thingy a quick pump”, marmite beer and Bronies.

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My beloved collection of geeks and weirdos.

I do miss them all a great deal – they generate the best sort of collective silliness! But then I meet up with Tamara or Lorena or other friends over here with their split tongues or talking microwaves or poets in bikinis or the beer-making Raspberry Pi, and realise that it is not just confined to Darlington and surrounds!

Year One has been a complete rollercoaster; part of me still doesn’t quite believe we made it, or that we survived all the stress and dramas that went with packing up our entire lives and transposing them to another country where we knew no one, had no connections and no history. I think it beats starting my coffee shop from scratch as The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Attempted, certainly it was harder than my PhD, but it has proved more worthwhile than all of them.

And Year Two? I have Plans and Schemes and Ambitions as always, but for the first time in many years, I am happy to just sit back, enjoy life and stop just bouncing on to the next Mad Project and pushing myself to find a new challenge the second one finishes. My PhD is finally, finally, completed and I’m comfy staying at home with Miranda at the moment. Now the work permit dramas are sorted for a few years, I am in no hurry to find a job that will mean uprooting Miranda’s routine yet again, it’s enough to know that I can get one if I see anything. (That said, I am not *just* staying home with Miri, I’m also Coffee Consulting, writing lots, making Ugly Cakes with the kids, attempting to get some academic journal papers sorted, and absent-mindedly selling coffee t-shirts!)

*Waves a bottle of homebrew in the direction of The Future*

CHEERS!

Canuckiversary Part 1 – Sensible stuff

The other week we celebrated our “Canuckiversary!” On 4th April, we had officially been here a year! Unfortunately that means that since then, we’ve had to go through and renew EVERYTHING – health cards, Carl’s driving licence, even our library cards! It is very nice to be able to renew them though. Best of all, Carl’s work informed us that our work permits will actually be renewed for THREE years more, not the two we’d thought we’d get. Woopedoo! This should allow us enough time to go through the Permanent Residency application process.

There’s been a lot in the news recently about the Temporary Foreign Workers scheme in Canada, and in particular, certain companies abusing the system. In the worst cases, they were firing Canadian workers, replacing them with temporary foreign workers on considerably lower wages and even worse, giving those foreign workers contracts that forbade them from applying for permanent residency once they got here!! Desperately not good!

This is the sort of situation the LMO process is designed to avoid. There are several sorts of Temporary Foreign Worker schemes, but the one we came in on, the scheme requiring and Labour Market Opinion, is specifically set out so that ONLY skilled foreign workers are allowed into the country, to do skilled/managerial level jobs, once it has been established that there are no suitable candidates to be found locally. And even then, there are a lot of checks,  and prospective employers have to prove that they have advertised the job locally first, and also that they will pay the foreign worker at least the industry-standard wage for the job, so that they can’t undercut Canadian workers. You can’t get an LMO for an unskilled, entry-level job, and you can just go ahead and recruit from overseas without first advertising the position locally for a set amount of time.

On the surface, that sounds like a very fair, sensible system. It is hindered by bureaucracy, but then, *everything* done through national government is. Ours took FIVE  MONTHS to process, and that wait is soul-destroying, which is part of the reason I started this blog! A year ago, I would have advocated that the UK adopts a similar system, to cope with the “influx” of economic migrants from Eastern and Central Europe – if immigrants already have jobs to go to before they arrive, if there hasn’t been any suitable British candidates applying, and if the immigrants can’t undercut British workers, why not let them in? Good luck to them if they actually want to move there!

However, this past year has uncovered some major flaws in the system for me. In addition to the abuses by a certain large national bank mentioned above, my own experiences lead me to believe the system is skewed far too far in the favour of the employers. Basically, after the LMO is approved and accompanying work permit has been granted at the port of entry, there are no checks whatsoever. Once the foreign worker is in place, the employer can do what they like. There’s no follow-up from Service Canada to make sure they are actually doing  the job they got the LMO for. The only ‘insurance’ is that the work permits granted under the LMO system are employer-specific. You can’t chop and change jobs if you entered Canada under this scheme.

In my case, my employers for whatever reason, never trusted me to do the job they’d gone to all the effort of getting me over here to do. Far from being a manager, I was demoted to a waitress position and cleaner before I even started the job properly – hardly the skilled job I’d sold my business and left my husband behind to do! If that were not frustrating enough, they then cut my wage, gave me a new job description with all references to the word “manager” removed, but never gave me a chance to agree to the new contract, and then they started cutting my hours as well, so I was left bringing in about $550 a month less than I was when I started there, but still needing to find the same amount of rent and childcare costs.

This put me in an impossible position. My work permit did not allow me to work for another employer because the permit is job-specific. By cutting my hours and my wage, my employers had effectively breached contract. However, I couldn’t quit and get another job because my permit doesn’t allow me to work for anyone else. If they’d fired me, I could have claimed unemployment benefit, but not if I quit.  I couldn’t apply for permanent residency because I would have needed a supporting letter from my employer and a permanent job contract. My contract that they’d already breached was only for a year. Finally, I couldn’t apply for another LMO document to extend my work permit, because the job I was doing no longer fitted the managerial/skilled criteria that an LMO requires.
I did try to appeal the conditions of my work permit, but the process took months anyway, and was eventually rejected, costing me $300 (non-refundable) for the privilege!

So basically I was left with the “choice” of ‘put up with whatever shit the employers hurl at me’ or ‘give up and go back to the UK’.  A tough choice indeed! I put up with it for much longer than I should have done, but felt like there was no alternative. There is also no one to offer any advice! I could have reported them to Labour Standards I suppose, but they couldn’t do anything about work permits, so eventually I decided it wasn’t worth the stress.

Eventually, I was “rescued” by Carl, or at least, his employers. When my LMO had been granted, Carl got an open work permit to support me. His job has turned out wonderfully, and his employers want to keep him longer than a year, so they applied for a separate, and three-year LMO for him which was approved easily – and I get a three year open-permit to go with it, meaning I can work anywhere. WOOHOO!

That’s how I finally escaped, but the whole thing was a confidence-shattering experience. After the bank scandal, temporary foreign workers got a lot of bad press – of the usual ‘coming over here, taking our jobs’ type remarks. Far from it! If the system works flawlessly, then there is no opportunity for job-stealing. More, the problem lies with the company abusing that system, and the lack of regulation in that system that leaves it open to abuse. Unfortunately, there are occasions when unscrupulous employers are given free-run to take advantage of temporary foreign workers, who are left extremely vulnerable with few real choices and very little help and support inside Canada.

InCoWriMo

At the very end of January, I (attempted to) resubmit my PhD thesis to Sheffield uni, having attacked all the revisions. This was an extremely complicated process, as it relied on file-sharing with a friend still at the Uni the other side of the Atlantic, persuading her, out of the kindness of her heart, to print 650 pages of the thing and get it bound for me, and meanwhile here in Canada, I had to print off a few important documents, sign declarations, then physically post my signature to England, along with a digital copy of the thesis on CD, then my poor supervisor has to collate the whole thing, sign his part of the forms, then distribute three copies to two examiners and the graduate research office, all without anyone involved actually being able to talk to each other!

So, as far as I was concerned, that was the last major hurdle. I feel like there is nothing more I can do to the bloody thing now. It is done with! And so, coincidentally, is Project B, but more on that in a sec.

This has of course left me a Gaping Hole in my evenings. I don’t actually like not having any projects or deadlines looming!

So it was by happy coincidence that I came across InCoWriMo! A total stranger’s post on Google+ led me to the page of International Correspondence Writing Month. The same principle as National Novel Writing Month – as in, inflicting a deadline and a structure to motivate you into writing something. In this case, it is writing 28 letters, one for every day in February. The emphasis is on handwriting though, and trying revive the dying art of writing real letters and sending them by snail mail.

Sadly, I only found out about this on 7th Feb so I had a week’s worth of letters to catch up on already, but I am making progress and I am now only two letters behind. The main difference between handwriting letters and sending them abroad, and emailing people or commenting on their status updates, is that digital/virtual correspondence is Free. Even if I only send these prepaid postcards to friends in the UK, twenty-eight of them are going to cost me in excess of $60. So, I am aiming to write 28 letters, but some of them may not be international, and some of them may be hand delivered….

Here’s some of the ones already sent!

Yes it’s from Someecards, and it was to Rachel Chapman Millinery, but I printed it out, handwrote on the back, and posted it in a real envelope!

One goes off to DarloBikeGirl in... erm, Darlo, the other is headed towards Nicaragua. First time I've written anything in Spanish for ages!
One goes off to DarloBikeGirl in… erm, Darlo, the other is headed towards Nicaragua. First time I’ve written anything in Spanish for ages!
Ok, so maaaaaaaaybe, just maybe, I might have given in to the tackiness of Valentine's Day
Ok, so maaaaaaaaybe, just maybe, I might have given in to the tackiness of Valentine’s Day
Flag going to an American living in England. The postcard says it depicts "Canada's natural beauty" - implying the flag is the best bit?!
Flag going to an American living in England. The postcard says it depicts “Canada’s natural beauty” – implying the flag is the best bit?!
I wrote a very tongue-in-cheek love letter entirely because there is a chance of me winning stationery - guess who it's to?
I wrote a very tongue-in-cheek love letter entirely because there is a chance of me winning stationery – guess who it’s to?
2013-02-12 19.31.05
My last blog post featured Alanis Morrisette. It’s not fair to deny her the cross-eyed bear!
Much like Nanowrimo, there is nothing to say the correspondence has to be a good read. Sorry for my inane waffling, Mark
Much like Nanowrimo, there is nothing to say the correspondence has to be a good read. Sorry for my inane waffling, Mark
Recounting recent highs and lows for Caz..
Recounting recent highs and lows for Caz..

This final one was not sent by me directly, but it is written typed by me, and it is from me. This is the aforementioned Project B: my new book. And some lovely, lovely friends have already bought it off Amazon! Mark tweeted this picture of it arriving in the post. Isn’t it SHINY?? 😀

Available here: http://amzn.com/1481049313