Tag: 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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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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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.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 6,400 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 11 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

All Together Again!

Daddy’s back!!!!

Miri’s gleeful reaction at the airport

So good to see him again!! Unfortunately for Carl, there were numerous last minute dramas involving the ferret-shipping company utterly screwing up with the import papers, meaning that the Furry Children are still in the UK and our little family is not quite complete yet. Poor Carl had to do an epic re-routing session and ended up driving a ridiculously long way all over the country the day before his flight, then due to the social skillz (ahem) of our dear friends in the south, only got a few hours sleep before the flight anyway. And then his connecting flight from Toronto was delayed by two hours. And then Miri and I tried to walk to the airport, and were late meeting him because we spent 20 minutes going round in circles trying to figure out how to get across Lewvan Drive.

– Rant alert:

Seriously, Regina, WTF?? How exactly are you supposed to get to the airport if you don’t have a car?? I cannot afford to pay $20 for a return cab fare when I can walk the distance in under half an hour. Yet there’s no bus, no pavement – sorry, “sidewalk” and there isn’t a pedestrian crossing within half a mile of the airport in either direction!? I had to run for my life across a major highway with the pushchair/stroller just to get to the terminal driveway! Even Darlington has a shuttlebus to the local airport that is actually smaller than your Walmart!!! Sort it out!!

– Rant over.

But Anyway. Carl is here. WOOOHOOOOO!

Today has been pretty stressful as on top of everything else, we are trying to move in to our lovely new house this weekend before Carl starts his new job. No time to relax for Carl! But even despite that, I still feel almost relieved. I’ve kinda had it etched into my brain that Everything Will Be Easier When Carl Gets Here. As anti-feminist as this may sound, I just feel more confident with my husband with me! He’s SUPPOSED to be here, and it’s not right for us to be apart. I also feel like We Have Officially Emigrated now. The last few months on my own didn’t really count since I still had so many ties to and loose ends in the UK. But now we are both free of all that finally!  Certainly his arrival will help with Miranda too, (though she is SO EXCITED to see Daddy again that she got herself all wound up, refused to sleep and has been an over-tired, grouchy madam all day and resorted to the kicking-howling-throwing-things-laying-on-the-floor type tantrums when we refused to put Shaun the Sheep on for the fourth time! But other than that she’s a darling sweet thing, of course!). Having a spare pair of hands with her gets me my evenings back so I can actually do things I want and need to do. I may even be able to Go Out Past 9pm!!

The new house is indeed lovely too; I feel like I can actually make it mine, which is something I’ve never felt in this apartment. It makes me that much more independent from work too. Carl seems impressed with it too, as he hadn’t actually seen it yet! Good thing too really. He also seems to be quite excited about work, even volunteering to buy new shoes for it! GASP. For the first time in at least a decade we should actually have some disposable income soon, and that on its own is a huge relief  as well. Saying money has been tight since I got here is like saying Canada is a fairly big country – massive understatement. No more just eating my tips. Woohoo!

I was going to do a sort of introspective post about the last three months, but Carl is already snoring so I’d better turn off.

Have to share a bed again.

Doh.

 

but YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!! My Carly Warly is back where he belongs!!!!

 

The British are invading!!!

Run for the hills!!

(they’re quite a long way away, mind,)

Very very happy and excited tonight!!

Firstly, the Parents are visiting for a week or so, and arrive tomorrow evening!!! This is going to be fun, I’m looking forward to seeing them anyway, and I kinda get to show off My New Home to them finally! I assume they will spoil MIranda rotten as always and she deserves that 🙂 Plus they are hiring a car here, so we can all use the opportunity to explore Regina a bit more, further afield than Cathedral village and the downtown areas I can comfortably walk to! We may even get out to see the Burrowing Owls in Moose Jaw. Miri likes Owls.

As the flights were so expensive (as always), the parents are opting to stay with me rather than in a B&B, so I’ve unfolded the futon/sofa thing. I can’t imagine it’s going to be too comfy, however. I have also cleaned the apartment thoroughly. I seemingly have a constant battle with dirt – the wooden floor seems to need sweeping all the time. This is why I like carpets – they hide the Toddler-Ick much better. I can pretty much guarantee that M. um will say the place smells of ferrets though, – even though my poor fuzzies are 3000 miles away!! Anyway, this place is now unnervingly tidy and I don’t like it.

Buuuuuuuut, the BEST EVER NEWS is……………. CARL GOT A JOB HERE IN REGINA!!!!!!!!!!!!!

He had an interview over the phone for a GIS specialist job last week, and they cruelly made him wait a week for an answer – but they called him back tonight (despite time difference!) and offered it to him!! Weeeeeeee!!! So not only a job out here, but a job that he’s actually trained for and should enjoy too. Pretty decent salary as well!! (More than he was earning in Darlington, certainly). Unfortunately he can’t just jump on a plane, as he still has to sell the house and give notice at work and so on, but hopefully it will be a case of weeks, not months now. CANNOT WAIT!! I miss him so much, and it’s not been easy looking after Miri on my own either. She needs her Daddy too. And I hate to think of him stuck in Darlo on his own, knowing that he hates it there too. 😦 But it won’t be for much longer!! Soooooooooo proud of him!

As he says online, “epic win!!!!”