Immigration: If At First You Don’t Succeed…

If you’re a first time reader, a quick, 50-word preface:

I’m an American married to an Canadian.  We moved to Halifax, Canada this summer from our last home in Prague, Czech Republic.  So, we come here as new residents: one citizen and one on “visitor status.”

So, Here I Am, an American in Canada

Against common myth, Americans are not freely welcome in Canada.  Sure, we can come to visit, -but not to stay.  Americans: Canada is not your 51st state. (That’s worth repeating, but I won’t).

So, Here I Am, on Visitor Status

Visitor status -that’s what you get when you come to Canada and have no legal grounds to stay.  For Americans, visitor status lasts 6 months.  That 6 months puts me as valid until December 24th.  Then I’m free to leave.  In fact, I’m told to leave.  All but escort my ass over the border – thanks.  Have a nice day, eh?

If I seem gruff, it’s a tinge of bitterness.  I’m married to a native-born Canadian and we have two kids, foreign born with Canadian citizenship.  (By the way, yes, there is a difference between native and foreign born Canadians.)  So, in my family, I’m feeling as much Canadian as American.

So, Here I Am, in Front of Immigration

When we arrived at Halifax airport late last June, we were sweating bullets.  Over the flight (and often prior) we went over our “stories,” our angle, planning and rehearsing answers to any question.

We expected to be questioned on our intentions and we expected a little grilling.  I had no reason to demand “I’m living here now” and it’s unreasonable to believe “Sure, my Canadian family is moving here, but I’m soon returning to Prague.

One thing for sure we knew: Immigration is not our friend.

And we were right. Immigration can be that nosey but otherwise harmless neighbour.  Immigration can be the crotchety bureaucrat that can’t seem to do their job twice the same way.  And they can be the power-tripping, asshole cop who’s wife is cheating on them while they pull a double-shift and they just caught you doing 110 in a 50.  But they are not your friend.

I Filed my Residency Paperwork

First, we saw an immigration lawyer.  Well worth the $275 – he answered questions we didn’t know we had.

Second, we decided on the path to take – as a spouse.

Next we filled in documents and gathered our supporting evidence: certificates, criminal background checks and financial statements.  I got the photos.  I did my medical examination.

It’s all footwork that we expected.  We went through the same drill in the US for my wife who successfully got her US citizenship.  Still, experience doesn’t make immigration paperwork any fun, nor prepare you for the idiocy that comes at every turn (or counter).

And, Here I Am. …Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock.

So we file my application.  I just checked on the status last week.  Thankfully they received it.  Of course I know the application package arrived; I sent it by FedEx.  But arrived doesn’t immediately mean “received” in the system.  The nice lady confirmed “Probably be another 7-8 months before the reviewers get to yours.”  Great.

Meanwhile, tick, tock, tick, tock.  My visitor status expiry looms and I was told to extend it as soon as possible.  But how?

We look online -there’s an immigration office downtown Halifax.  Great!

I arrange babysitting and go downtown to the CIC office: “Sorry, can’t help you – by appointment only. Call this number.

I step outside the office & call the number: “Sorry, but all agents are busy right now…please try your call again on our less busy days, Thursday and Friday.”  Great.

I call on Thursday.  An agent answers.  After my “elevator speech explanation” to immigration officers, she offers “Sorry, but can’t help you.

For the love of god, how is it a freakin’ Czech post office can have better customer service than any country’s immigration office?

Well, considerable investigation later – I find out I can extend my stay online.  Most unbelievable to me is no one was able to say that.

Who knew their website has so much processing available all online?  Certainly not Canadian immigration officers.

So, Here I Am, on Extended Visitor Status

All’s well that ends well.  And we patiently wait the 7-8 months for my permanency residence application to be reviewed.  Since 7 is more than 6, I guess I’ll be extending my visitor status again next summer.  At least I’ll know what to do.

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Jeff

An American who likes to move around. I now live on the eastern Canadian seaboard. My job? A stay-at-home dad for two cute but demanding bosses. My wife? Also cute; not so demanding. My wife and I both love travel. We met in South Korea, travelled across Australia, India, Europe and beyond. We lived in Czech Republic for four years. Many stories to tell and experience to share. If you let me, I will help you travel as we do. Enjoy.

6 thoughts on “Immigration: If At First You Don’t Succeed…”

  1. I strongly maintain you have no idea how inhuman your own, or another country’s immigration system is, until you experience it yourself. One of my college roommates is an American who’s lived in Canada for ages but only recently got citizenship. I interviewed her here: http://cheeseweb.eu/2010/06/expat-life-northern-canada-interview-megan/ She might be worth contacting for tips. Her blog is here: http://www.snowcoveredhills.com/ Best of luck with the process and feel free to share your horror stories. We can all relate 🙂

  2. Great post 🙂 Totally reminds me of our frustration dealing with Belgian immigration… I felt like it was all a scavenger hunt and each trip to the city hall provided us with a new clue (see Alison’s post about getting a parking permit in Belgium). There was apparently no way to give you an overview of the entire process and what you needed in each trip.

    Having done all this in a foreign language, it makes me also empathize with the struggle non- speakers face upon arrival. I realize that immigration is a hot topic in a lot of countries but sometimes I think there is a lack of understanding about what is happening on the other side of the desk. Maybe this is true for both parties though…

    Anyway congrats on extending your stay and, as a British friend of ours said upon getting a ticket for parking facing the wrong way, “welcome to the fascist state of Canada.” 🙂

  3. Oh MAN. This is rough times a thousand. But, I feel you. Immigration is not my friend either. The UK visa system is 99% online, which means if you have a question you need to submit it online to a British robot and wait three days for a reply. If by chance you’re feeling extra saucy, you can call Worldbridge, their phone support company that costs $3 a minute and only actually connects you with a human being about once every 15 tries.
    Whenever I’m entering the UK and physically standing in front of one of their immigration officers I just want to blurt out all the questions that I can’t find the answers to online. The ironic part about that situation (if it were to ever happen) is that they’d smile, think I was drunk, and send me on the first flight back to America. You just can’t win! But it sounds like you’re getting close…good luck 🙂

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