Stranded

It should come as no surprise to anyone even slightly familiar with Connie and I that visas and passports are a bit of a nightmare. Connie, being an immigrant, needed a visa to stay here with me and her two children. It’s a sad state of affairs that the world hasn’t really found a solution to, the idea of movement of people. Visas serve as nothing other than to limit movement of people around the world, which in turn builds the borders so much in the news recently. As one man abhorrently changes the biggest free democracy in the world to a single autocratic dictatorship (that isn’t hyperbole either, it’s a statement of fact) Connie and I look on with horror – we lived in the US for a year, if you remember, and found it to be a wonderfully fascinating place that even after living in my microcosm of Texas I now don’t fully recognise. Of course, they’ve done it to themselves in a way, and in a way that’s just how things go. But it is something that can only alarm and horrify as time goes on.

Connie and I have our own immigration issues to deal with at the moment and they’re frustratingly problematic. Back in 2012 Connie’s first visa expired, so we applied for a new one, and it ranks as one of the most nerve-wracking times of my life. Despite knowing we were being truthful and really were together, and we really did love each other, and that I really did have the funds to “support” her, as the UK Border Agency so eloquently puts it, I sill worried day and night lead up to the interview that we were going to be denied and she’d have to fly home. We’d put aside money for the flight too, just in case. Luckily, she was granted a stay for two years, and in 2014, just before Joni was born, applied for “Indefinite Leave to Remain” which is her permanent residency. She is still only Canadian, but this year we will be applying for her British citizenship, and once that’s sorted I’ll be the only one in the family with a single nationality (at least until I obtain both British and Scottish citizenships post-IndyRef2, naturally).

This dual citizenship status of my daughters hasn’t been an issue until now. Joni has one passport, a British one, and when we travelled back to Canada she used that passport to enter as a visitor. Maybe that wasn’t proper, but no one pulled us up about it until the last time we entered, in August 2015, when one border guard offhandedly asked us “When are you getting her Canadian Passport?” to which Connie and I shrugged – we hadn’t really thought about it, but resolved to get it sorted. We knew that technically she should be travelling on both, officially, but the fact it made no difference to our travel plans meant it was low on the priority list.

That offhand comment meant a lot more that we realised. Being unplugged from the Canadian day to day life and not travelling abroad at all in 2016 due a certain someone’s arrival into the world, we have only realised that the comment was an attempt to help us rather than chastise us. In November 2016, rather ironically on the Etta’s birthday, the law changed and Canada started to enforce a new boarding approval system called the eTA system (the irony of that name and Etta’s name is also not lost on me), which means I have to pre-clear as a British Citizen to enter Canada as a visitor. That’s similar to the US’s ESTA system (a system I was exempt when I had my Visa in 2010). The issue is that, as dual-citizens, Etta and Joni can’t use that system, as they aren’t going in a visitors but as citizens who can stay for as long as they want - forever, if need be, just like Connie. That’s a problem when they can’t board the flight with their British passport without an eTA and they both don’t have a Canadian passport.

The solution is obviously “get a Canadian Passport” right? Of course it is – the problem is that the girls need proof of their citizenship, and that comes in the form of a citizenship certificate that needs to be applied for, with a current waiting time of five months (minimum, as the site says that for applications out of Canada, add six months to that number). Then they need to apply for the passport after that, which is another wait. That’s a total wait for 12+ months probably, which means that Etta will be nearing a year and a half old by the time she can go home to a country that she is a citizen of. If this sounds intense, it is, and the moment I read the full details and ramifications I started crying. Connie did too, when I told her. We want to show off our daughter, and certainly don’t want to wait until she’s walking and talked before we go home, but that’s the rules and they can’t be bent.

Well, that’s not exactly true. See, the above restrictions are only on air travel. That’s right, if you go by land and sea you can get into Canada no problem. It’s only by air there are these restrictions. I’m not sure why, but that’s the truth. So what it means is that to enter Canada we’ll have to fly to the US and then go across the border that way. If that sounds dodgy, it isn’t – the US has a similar programme for tourists (like Connie, Joni, Etta and I will be), and then we cross the border into Canada just like any other visitor going to Buffalo and wanting to go into the Canadian side.

I feel annoyed and put out by the rule change. Not just because it’s been sprung on us (like, there is no shortcut for children, which is basically the main demographic that is affected here, Canadian ex-pats with foreign born children wanting to go home) as most everyone else with either already have a Canadian passport or have some for of identification to prove their Canadian-ness. Etta and Joni don’t, and the result is a bit of a fudge.

It does however mean that I’m going to be able to visit Niagara Falls, so there’s always a silver lining. That and actually being able to go home to Canada.