Wednesday, March 29, 2023
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I feel trapped in Canada by my work permit

This First Person article is written by Michel Eugui, who lives in Halifax. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

I started planning my trip back to Uruguay nearly 10 months before my grandpa’s 75th birthday. After two years of living in Halifax on a work permit, I was eager to go back to Uruguay, eat asado and just to stop thinking in English all the time. 

Don’t get me wrong — there are many advantages of living in this country when compared to life in a developing country in South America. Canada has been a welcoming place for my wife and me. My wife, Gianina, is studying to become a meteorologist in Nova Scotia, and I work as a superintendent in the building where we live. I’ve made some friends and enjoy strolling in Halifax on the weekends with my wife’s hand in mine. But I also miss my abuelo and my friends, and the ease of speaking in Spanish. 

I was raised by my grandparents in Cardona, a small city in southwestern Uruguay. I’m really attached to Abuelo, and he’s the person I miss the most back home. After my grandmother died in 2021, I could tell Abuelo was depressed every time we chatted on the phone. He also has some health issues, such as poor vision and diabetes, and he lives by himself. We both were very excited to meet again and spend more time together.

A smiling man takes a selfie while standing next to an older man holding a fishing rod.
Eugui, left, with his abuelo on a fishing trip in Palmar, Uruguay, in 2020. (Michel Eugui)

I also planned a camping trip by the creek in Aigua with my friends. We haven’t had our annual camping since the summer of 2019 thanks to the pandemic, and scheduling was more complicated now that they had children. 

We received our renewed five-year permits in October 2022. Immediately after that, my wife submitted the application for our visitor visas as a family. According to the government website, Canada’s processing time for a visitor visa application was 23 business days. Perfect. That was more than enough time before my trip in March 2023. I excitedly told my grandpa that I would be with him for his birthday. 

However, after one month, only my wife received the letter asking for her passport to attach to the visa, while my visitor visa application was still being processed. Both my wife and I have tried getting an answer many times. We’ve waited multiple times for hours in the phone queue without reaching a live human being on the other end. Emails only come back with an automated response that says, “We are experiencing a high volume of requests, so our response may be delayed.”

A smiling man and woman pose for a selfie at a harbourfront.
Eugui lives in Halifax with his wife, Gianina. They have work and study permits respectively for Canada. (Michel Eugui)

Several months later, I now feel trapped in Canada, held hostage by a work permit that lets me make a living here, but prevents me from seeing my loved ones. I know I am not the only one with a valid temporary residence permit waiting for months for visitor visa approval, wondering why the application is not being processed. I understand the pandemic has delayed response times, and it’s important to deal with emergencies, such as the refugees who are applying from Ukraine or Afghanistan. And I realize my circumstances aren’t extenuating. But still, it leaves me feeling that workers like myself are undervalued and underappreciated, even as Canada faces a labour shortage. 

Each month that passes is a wasted opportunity to see my grandpa.

After Christmas and still no visa, I decided we had to pull the plug on our trip. I told my friends I couldn’t make it to our camping getaway. We were all disappointed. But it was much harder to tell my grandpa that I was not going to make it for his birthday. I was so upset to deliver the news by phone, without seeing Abuelo’s face, that not only was I cancelling this trip, but in fact, I didn’t know when I would ever be able to travel. He was unhappy and I felt like I was letting him down. 

After that, every time I speak with him, he asks me when I will come to see him. It’s so hard to explain to him that if I leave Canada — even after living here for more than two years, after having a valid work permit, a job, and my wife’s career in Halifax — that I might not be allowed to re-enter. I can’t explain that to him, because I don’t understand it myself. 

I want to spend some time with him now before it’s too late. I don’t want to fly back for his funeral. I want to be there with him and hug him. I don’t want to imagine how I would feel if I can’t travel to visit him one last time — just because my visa application is delayed. But I can’t tell him all that, just like I can’t do anything about my application. 

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