Update: Edna Ner passed away on Dec. 2.
Brigita Anastasia Ner, alone by her comatose mother’s bedside, waits for Citizenship and Immigration Canada to decide whether her father can visit Vancouver from the Philippines.
Her father, a pastor, applied for a temporary resident visa on Nov. 8 after his wife, Edna Ner, 47, suffered a cardiac arrest. Ner said the question of whether to keep her on life support cannot be answered without him.
“We have the letter from the hospital, we have the letter from my mom’s doctor, but I don’t feel that the immigration office feels that urge or that urgency that he has to be here, so it’s like they keep delaying it,” said Ner, 23, a Canadian citizen who moved to the Philippines and came back to be with her mother on Nov. 6.
She added, “He has family who can help him, but they’re making it an issue now that he needs to get a letter and prove that he’s not going leech off the government when he gets here.”
Ner is not alone. Filipino families struggle to get the temporary resident visas required during times of crisis, said immigration lawyer Virginie Francoeur of the West Coast Domestic Workers Association.
“It is – generally speaking – very difficult for family members in the Philippines to get visitors’ visas to come to Canada to visit their families,” Francoeur said.
Listen to Ner speak of her frustration with visa process
Francoeur, 80 per cent of whose clients are Filipino, said the main reason is that visa officers think they will overstay the authorized period.
Guidy Mamann, an immigration lawyer in Toronto, agrees. “As soon as you see a country that is experiencing an economic downturn, political stresses, political conflict, right away – the people want to get out, they want to go to ‘greener’ or calmer pastures,” he said. “That’s when the visas stop being issued.”
Proof that they’ll go back
Applicants need to prove that they have a place to stay and have sufficient funds to maintain themselves in Canada.
With Regulation 179 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, CIC can refuse applicants it suspects might stay too long. The Philippines is one of 145 countries subject to Regulation 179.
CIC exempts 53 countries, most of which are developed, from applying for a visiting visa. Mamann said CIC doesn’t worry that someone from a rich country “is going to sneak in the underground economy and start working illegally in Canada.”
Johanne Nadeau, a regional media spokesperson for CIC, said, “If someone is coming to visit a sick family member or a funeral or what not, those details need to be written out in the application, so that we’re taking that into consideration.” When asked where online are the specific criteria for entry, Nadeau replied they’re there, even though they’re not always in black and white.
Alfredo Santiago had nothing to complain about. It took the retiree from the Philippines a month to get his visa to Canada to see his 27-year-old son in the hospital. But he had urged a CIC official in Manila to call the doctor tending to his son in Vancouver General Hospital to get his application stamped.
He applied in September for a visa when his son was hospitalized. A month later, his son John, a temporary foreign worker, was diagnosed with malignant brain and spinal tumours.
“First and foremost, I don’t have relatives here,” John Santiago said. “My father always sleeps here in the hospital so it’s a big help for me. It’s also a big relief for my condition to be with my dad.”
Alfredo Santiago was approved for a six-month visa. His wife, who has a history traveling to Singapore and returning to the Philippines, will join them on Dec. 4.
Francoeur said a history of traveling to and from other countries and complying with stay requirements can help a person get a visa.
Fear of rejection
Armin Patulan, an engineer originally from the Philippines now working in Dubai, applied for a visa to attend his cousin’s wedding in Cambridge, Ont., in August 2009.
“The immigration officer reviewing my application deemed that I will not be going out of the country at the end of my allowed stay,” he said.
Patulan said he was upset because he paid a non-refundable processing fee of $400 – and was initially rejected. His second application was approved two weeks later when he sent a letter from his employer indicating that his visit is part of his annual vacation.
But that cost him another $400.
He plans to return in 2012 and is afraid of getting rejected again. “Attached papers are not convincing for them, you know, because they always think this might have been copied somewhere – it’s your word they’re going to back on till there’s no interview,” he said.
As far as Mamman is concerned, he is calling for CIC to be more transparent in dealing with temporary visas. CIC’s online application form “doesn’t come close to telling you whether or not you’re just throwing your money away or not because all this does is give you static information,” he said.
“It should say, ‘If you don’t have a job, if you don’t have a career, and you’re not in your third year of Harvard law school, or if you don’t have a business, don’t bother applying.’ That’s what it should say,” he added.
Meanwhile, nurses and doctors at Burnaby General persistently ask Ner when her father will arrive.