We parked under a palm tree, two houses down from where the Canadian flag waved atop the blocky white building. Siham, with her documents tucked into a mint-green folder, was let through the consulate’s green metal door. I wished her luck as the guard clanged the entrance shut.
For the next two hours I tapped on the steering wheel, listening to the mix of Arabic and French music on the national radio station. Finally, Siham emerged, distraught and trying to restrain tears. She opened the car door.
“What happened?” I asked.
Siham slumped into the passenger seat, her face scrunched up like it’d taken an emotional gunshot. She choked back a sob. “The immigration woman said she won’t issue me a visa. That there were too many discrepancies?”
“What kind of discrepancies?”
“She says my accounts showed three different pay rates.” Siham’s voice continued to waver. I drove off, turned onto a busy road and headed toward her office.
“That can be explained,” I said, “you took a week unpaid leave so we could get married in Oujda. The others were when you just switched jobs and your salary was being sorted out.”
Siham took a deep breath, her voice cracked when she spoke. “The woman asked if we planned to live in Canada. I told her ‘Yes, but not right now.’ Then she asked ‘Why, if we wanted to live in Canada, are we applying for a visitor’s visa?’” Siham took a deep breath, and continued. “She said if I want to go and stay in Canada then I should be applying for a resident’s visa. I tried to explain that we only want to visit right now, but she had made up her mind. Before I left, she said she wouldn’t issue me a visa.”
I dropped her off at work and returned home, upset that my wife had been stereotyped as a would-be leach on Canadian society. All the evidence pointed to the opposite, and I went over it as I sat down and began writing on my laptop.
Siham had two expired Spanish visas, and one expired French visa. None of these had ever been abused. If she wanted to illegally immigrate to a rich country, she’d already had that chance, in fact she still did because she also had a valid, ten-year, multiple-entry visa for the United States.
Furthermore, the documents Siham provided had gotten her all of the above visas: work certificates; leave of absence certificates; and bank statements showing she made much more than she could earn as an illegal immigrant in Canada. Finally, she had our translated marriage certificate.
Could that be the reason she was rejected? Is it assumed all Moroccan-Canadian marriages harbour a secret intent to stay in Canada illegally?
As soon as we collected her passport later that afternoon, and confirmed the rejection, I felt violated. It felt like I’d just been conned by some guy on the street. My stomach was in knots. It’s not a conman on the street though. It’s a faceless bureaucrat behind a locked iron door. The big door has a little swinging window, like the gateway to the emerald city.
In my scenario, the little munchkin says, “It will cost you one-hundred-and fifty dollars to apply for entrance.” The moment he has the cash in his hand, he says, “Sorry, request denied!” and slams the door in my face. That’s what it cost, $150 Canadian dollars.
I wanted to appeal the decision. I wanted to go over this persons head and raise such hell that it would send shock waves through the immigration department and force them to take competence training.
I started by going to the neighbouring Consular Services part of the embassy. They told me they couldn’t do anything, it was out of their jurisdiction and I had to deal with immigration. The immigration munchkins wouldn’t let me past the big door with the little swinging window – only applicants are allowed inside.
I contacted a Member of Parliament back in Canada. She couldn’t do anything either, except refer me to a website with tips on which “other” documents could be provided. My MP had no jurisdiction, just political influence, and if she used it, it could be politically damaging. In England, a well-known politician handed in an immigration application personally. This was seen as a politician wielding his power and he ended up resigning over the issue.
Immigration officials are entrusted to act on behalf of the Canadian government. Similar to an official police investigation, political interference is severely frowned upon. In fact, even the immigration official’s boss couldn’t question her decision. Immigration officials are given their slice of authority and nobody can veto their decisions. In other words, there was no higher authority.
I could, in theory, appeal the decision through the courts. The process itself takes more than two years because so many people do appeal – an obvious sign of problems. Furthermore, the appeals are made in the same court as pensioners fighting for their pensions. If I appealed based on principal, I’d be delaying the decision for countless old pensioners who probably needed the money a lot more than I did. Lastly, we live in Morocco. How can we appeal a decision all the way over in Canada?
There was no second chance. The immigration official assumed Siham was a wannabe “illegal.” Most “illegals” don’t have MBA degrees from English speaking universities. Most illegals don’t provide documents proving they make triple what someone could make earning minimum wage in Canada.
In the end, we went to the website the MP had given us. We obtained notarized letters from my family inviting us to stay with them. We obtained notarized copies of my bank statements and my father’s income statements. We made copies of our Moroccan gym memberships, our Moroccan car papers, printed photos of our wedding, and our life together since we’d first met. Finally, we went back to reapply.
The second interview is not allowed to be given by the same official. An older gentleman gave Siham her second visa interview. She described him as helpful, not accusing and hostile like the previous woman. He read through the table of contents, listing all of the information we were providing, with an asterisk beside any new documents. After reading it, he stared at the application in disbelief. “You shouldn’t have been rejected before,” he told Siham. “You’re married to a Canadian. You’ve got an American visa. You should be guaranteed a multiple entry visa. Why are you only applying for a single entry this time?”
“Because we applied for a multiple entry before,” Siham said. “We thought it might have had something to do with the woman’s decision.”
“Unfortunately, since you’re applying for a single entry, that’s all I can give you right now. I’m putting a note next to your name on our computer system. If you come back, you are guaranteed a multiple-entry visa. No questions asked. You don’t even need to do the interview.”
We picked up her single entry visa later that day.
Even though hell didn’t get raised, and we had to pay another $70 for the single-entry visa, I felt a tiny bit of satisfaction that someone had said a wrong decision had been made.
It would cost us another $150 to apply the next time, which wouldn’t be for more than a year, but we were guaranteed a visa. At least we would be spared more humiliation. Or so we thought…
It was early in January 2007, and now we were three. Siham felt sufficiently recovered from our son’s November birth to travel overseas and introduce baby Zack to my family. We bought our tickets for late January. We gathered Siham’s work certificates, bank statements and our marriage certificate, as well as Zack’s documents.
Instead of getting the visa right away, Siham was asked to take another interview. She explained our travel intentions to a different woman. “We plan to visit Dan’s brother and sister in Canada for a week before flying down to Florida to stay with his parents.”
Siham described the woman as unsure and sceptical. She kept asking Siham about a photocopy of my Moroccan residence card, which was accidentally taken from our old application. I hadn’t photocopied my updated ID.
“Hrmm.” The woman’s accusatory tone sounded scarily familiar to Siham. “I’m not sure. But since you have a baby and want to visit your husband’s family, I think I’ll give you the visa.”
Later that day, we returned to collect Siham’s passport. Instead of the visa, there was the familiar rejection letter.
The nightmare was happening again, even though we were guaranteed it wouldn’t.
It took me a couple of days to regain my composure enough to write a letter not filled with expletives. With Siham refusing to take part in the humiliating process again, it was my only option if we wanted to visit my family. In the letter, I mentioned she was previously guaranteed a visa. I also mentioned that she visited Canada last year and didn’t abuse her visa.
Can it get any lower risk than that? I asked as I pointed that out in the letter.
We were issued a visa. It cost another $150. In total, we’ve paid $520 for Canadian visa applications. We should have only paid $150 in the first place. To my knowledge, there is still nobody we can officially complain to.