Family reunification is a term that does not quite capture the longing and anguish of families who do not know when they will finally be together sharing the same physical space, time zone, laughter and love.
Abet’s parents and Jela used to wait at the same bus shelter in Vancouver on their way to work. They would chat, got to know each other and eventually, Jela got introduced remotely to their son Abet who was based in the Philippines and worked as a seaman.
The long courtship that started in 2014 led to nuptials in 2019 soon followed by plans for the two to share married life in Canada. As a Canadian citizen, Jela applied to sponsor Abet in February 2021 but was faced with one hurdle after another.
When the pandemic hit, government service slowed down and so any application to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada(IRCC) was stalled. “I had to pay for an immigration consultant who guided us throughout the application process,” Jela shared exclusively with Canadian Filipino Net (CFNet). “The IRCC forms are constantly updated and if you submitted forms that were not quite up-to-date, they either ask you to re-do portions of the application package or return the entire package to you.”
It took a full year for both Jela as sponsor and Abet as principal applicant to submit application packages which included not just the valid marriage license but photos, greeting cards and messages exchanged between the two of them from the courtship all the way to the most current at the time of submission. Jela recalled, “We had to submit screenshots of our phone calls, text messages as well as written testimonies of friends and family who knew us and our relationship.” The process even entailed paying for a professional translation service from Tagalog to English.
In July 2021, they received an acceptance of receipt confirming approval of Jela as sponsor. Abet soon after had to get a medical clearance but, due to the lockdowns in the Philippines amid the pandemic, that too took a while before he could get clearance. Jela recalled, “We couldn’t help but feel anxious about the entire application process because even if you logged in on the IRCC website and checked on the application status, it was hard to tell where exactly in the process our application was.”
Ten months later, Abet’s permanent resident visa arrived, and the couple was reunited in July of this year.
The long journey to permanent residency
Clare Mandap came to Canada with her parents in 2012 when her father was appointed as deputy consul to the Philippine Consulate in Vancouver. Clare entered grade nine as a “diplomatic dependent” which means that the family only had to pay domestic tuition fees. “Because my dad was a diplomat, I was technically a local student and didn’t have to pay international student fees,” Clare shared with CFNet. International student tuition and fees cost as much as four times more than domestic tuition and fees.
By the time Clare was in her second year of university studies, her father’s diplomatic assignment ended. Clare chose to stay in Canada but her status unwittingly changed from diplomatic dependent to international student. Clare recalled, “I lost my status as a diplomatic dependent under my dad which means I went from paying the local tuition rate to international rate.”
As an international student with a study permit, Clare was required to be enrolled in at least three courses per semester but was only allowed to work a maximum of 20 hours a week. Knowing the value of education, Clare knew she had to prioritize her studies. “I arranged my school schedule so that I wouldn’t have to be on campus every day which would allow me to work on days when I didn’t have to be on campus.” Clare would study, do homework and prepare for exams before or after a work shift.
In 2020, Clare graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in psychology. “After I finished my program, I applied for my PGWP (Post Grad Work Permit) right away, which took four months to receive,” said Clare. “I then applied for permanent resident status under the temporary program called “TR to PR” that was launched in 2021 by the IRCC as a way to keep workers in Canada during the pandemic.” The special program targeted recent international student graduates.
Clare’s long journey from a diplomatic dependent to international student to temporary worker came to a happy ending this year. “I applied for this TR to PR program last year when I was working as a receptionist at a law firm; I still work at the same company but as a legal assistant now.” Clare received permanent resident status in May of this year.