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Heidi Leon Ferrer and her family

Venezuelan-Canadians feel discriminated against as family visitor visas denied

“I just wanted to have my mom here for a couple of weeks,” says Valeria Rivero

By Alejandrina Alvarez Debrot , in City , on November 21, 2019

Venezuelans in Metro Vancouver are voicing concerns about their extended families being denied visitors visas. 

They’re wondering if their families are being discriminated against because of the political and economic turmoil in the country. 

Heidi Leon Ferrer is a new Canadian who has been living in Metro Vancouver for nine years. Two years ago,  during an extended stay at the hospital, she asked her family if they could come visit.

Her parents and twin brothers applied for a visitor visa to come support her. She thought it would be a routine bureaucratic procedure, as her family had previously visited Canada in 2011 and 2013. 

Yet this time something was different. Her parents had their visas approved but her brothers were denied.

Heidi Leon Ferrer at her home in Coquitlam

The first letter the Leon Ferrer brothers received cited “the current and ongoing economic situation in Venezuela” for the denial. 

Her brothers re-applied two more times, but continued to be denied. 

Her family ended up  canceling the trip because her brothers, who have special needs, are dependent on her parents and they couldn’t leave them behind. 

Leon Ferrer doesn’t understand what’s changed — especially since her family has been approved to visit in the past. 

“My family came and then went back,” said Leon Ferrer.

Official numbers from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada show a steady decrease in the number of applications for visitor visas from Venezuela, but an increase in the number of rejections in the last three years. 

In the first six months of 2019, 46 per cent of visitor visas were rejected compared to 22 per cent in 2016.  

Rémi Larivière, a spokesperson for IRCC, said in an emailed statement that the government is “committed to a fair and non-discriminatory application of immigration procedures. All applications from around the world are assessed equally against the same criteria.”

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But for Venezuelans in Canada, seeing their family members increasingly denied visas to visit is isolating and upsetting.

Valeria Rivero has been living in Metro Vancouver for five years and has a similar story to Leon Ferrer. Her mother, a Venezuelan who lives in Colombia, was recently denied a visitor visa with the same rationale as Leon Ferrer’s brothers.  

Valeria Rivero in Port Moody 

Rivero, who works as a baker in Port Moody, hasn’t seen her mother in five years and was looking forward to the idea of showing her the place she now calls home.

“I just wanted to have my mom here for a couple of weeks,” said Rivero. 

‘There is a presumption that Venezuelans want to stay’ 

Immigration consultant Alexander Prezioisi said, on paper, the visa application process is the same regardless of nationality. 

“In reality, however, it is quite difficult for Venezuelans to obtain a visa because there is a presumption that Venezuelans want to stay in Canada,” said Preziosi. 

Isaac Nahon, a University of Ottawa professor, sees a disconnect in the messaging the federal government is signaling on Venezuela.  

On one side, he sees Global Affairs providing financial and diplomatic aid to Venezuela, trying to support advances in the country. And then Immigration Canada is limiting the number of visas allotted to Venezuelans.

“There is no single coherent policy, and this results in everyone receiving the same standard letter no matter what kind of evidence they present,” he said. 

Venezuela’s ambassador to Canada, Orlando Viera Blanco, says “the problem lies with the allocation of visitors’ visas as the Canadian government is much more likely to grant Venezuelans refugee status.” 

Official figures from the Immigration Board of Canada show that from January to September this year, 1,083 of 1,239 refugee-protection claims were accepted from Venezuelans.  In comparison, between January and June of this year, Canada approved 1,466 of 2,748 visitor visas. 

For people like Leon Ferrer, it’s not clear what else to do to have their visitor visas approved. 

“Mainly what we want is to show our families how and where we live and to have a nice time with them.”