Tag: immigration

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.





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!