Crossing the border as a permanent resident

Day of UK Car Bombs at Bellingham International Airport When Rebecca made her adventure to live blog the Matthew Good show in Las Vegas, I had to drive down to pick her up from Bellingham International Airport in Washington state. Don’t let that name impress you too much. It’s a very nice, worthwhile airport, but it’s proximity to the Canadian border is the only reason it is granted the covenanted “international” label.

The big thing is that this was going to be my first time crossing the border since becoming a landed immigrant in Canada. I’ve got the permanent residence card[cic] that is my ticket for less hassle getting over the border, and the less hassle comes in terms of being kicked out or kept out of the country.

Things like this are no big deal, but I was driving across the border by myself. On top of that, I was in my mother-in-law’s car, so it was a vehicle in which I don’t even own. If they needed proof of ownership at any point, we were prepared for me to be held up a little bit. Plus, we also went over things to say, not say, and any documents I might need to prove my “intentions during your stay in the United States of America.”

Canada Day long weekend, I knew the waits would be a little long, but there was some safety in the thought that this was in between the major travel times. So for a Saturday, the radio said that waits were anywhere from three hours to ninety minutes. When I got there, the signs in the line up lanes said 40 minutes, and that’s pretty much how long it took.

My First Border Crossing Additionally, I had a little bit of concern with the recent bombings in the U.K. I had already heard that the threat levels at U.S. airports were raised, so there was a thought in my head that it could affect Rebecca’s flight as well as border crossings. Nothing on the radio or signs on display as I crept ahead in the queue, and things panned out in the end.

Getting up to the front of the line, I handed my U.S. passport over with my Canadian PR Card tucked inside, sticking out slightly at the top. I had a print out of Rebecca’s travel itinerary on my lap, ready to go in case he needed proof that I wasn’t a terrorist or drug runner.

He asked three questions. Where do you live? Where are you going? Are you bringing any goods from Canada into the U.S.? In the span of less than a minute, I shot right through.

What gets me is that each car ahead of me took two to five minutes on average when reaching the guy in the booth. I could see passports being passed over, then some conversation, some extra papers were handed over, more conversation, and the people were allowed to pass after getting a handful of documents handed back to them.

Perhaps I was lucky, or maybe the PR Card thing gets you some express treatment in certain situations. Time will tell, but it’s a comforting thing to be able to travel again. It’s even cooler when you get your own PR Card because your picture on the front is also a hologram on the back. Awesome.

Becoming a permanent resident in under an hour

The telling of my process of for immigrating to Canada is going to be fairly out of order, and with my appointment to become a landed immigrant[wiki] so fresh in my memory, it’s easier to start out there. Also, it takes a lot longer than an hour to become permanent resident[wiki]. This is a post about the day that I got my status.

It’s been a year and a half waiting process for everything to come together, and I have done everything I can to be patient about it. Rebecca can attest to this, keeping me from not bouncing off the walls, but wanting to punch holes through them. It’s not the waiting as much as those job opportunities that I’ve had to let pass on by for the only reason that it would be illegal for me to have them. At this time, the job situation isn’t much different, but I have a few projects keeping me busy with a slight trickle of income.

CIC Getting my notification of appointment with the lovely folks at CIC came in the middle of this past April. The piece of paper said 1PM on May 2nd and bring a list of necessary documents; my passport, two copies of I.D. photos that will go on my PR card[wiki], and the most recent permit that is allowing me to stay in this country. In my case, this was my work permit.

I was fretting this from the time I woke up because of that nagging thought in my head that I was going to forget something important, and in this case, it was our marriage certificate. I ended up not needing it because they said you had to show it if you wanted your PR card to have a different name than what was on your passport or other identification records. Not a problem for me, but there is still that lingering thought. This deep in the process, the last thing I wanted to do is not have everything I needed. Would they allow you to run home and get it or would you have to reschedule? Even then, would you have to wait a day? Week? Month?

Some horror stories out there about immigrating all tell you one thing; the immigration leg of the Canadian government can often resemble the pace of a sloth, not to mention that they can lose things into black holes that even Stephen Hawking has no explanation for. Plus, it didn’t help that this was a last minute thought to cross my mind before walking out the door, Rebecca unable to be reached to get an exact location of it because I couldn’t find it anywhere.

When I walked into the lobby, I was a sweaty mess, part nervousness, other part being that it was warmer and humid outside than I anticipated when I left the house on foot. The security guard greeted me right away, asked if he could help me, and was on top of the situation when I said that I was there for my appointment. Checking my name off the list, he directed me to a place to take a seat for waiting, but the whole lobby was packed. I was taken to a side room that was probably for consultation, just out of view of the crowded lobby. Crammed in there with about eight other people, my heart kind of sank because they must all be waiting in line for an appointment as well, and I settled in to endure a long afternoon.

About five minutes later, the same guard came into the room and asked us to step outside because they were giving some directions. Back in the lobby, a woman was telling all of us what was about to happen, and I suddenly realized that we were all there for the exact, same thing. Some folks were there alone, others had brought friends and family, cameras in tote. This is when I realized that this is a big deal, if not an extremely important day for some very happy people, and we were all doing this together.

Permanent Resident to Canada We were directed to walk down a hallway with our letters of appointment in view at all times. Through a door, we were led to a boardroom that had about fifty chairs lined up in rows. Only those that were there for an appointment were to sit in those chairs, and all but one or two were taken. A movable wall separated the room in two, us interviewees on one side, the three interviewers stationed at tables on the other.

As we herded in, the immigration officers were talking to all of us, joking around and busting out some great one liners. However, you could catch the cultural divide because what was hilarious to some, others let the joke pass right over their head. Another round of directions started to be explained, this time they started in French, then the other person took over and spoke in English. Even this process took a comical approach at times, and that really made the whole thing seem less ominous.

One by one, we were to be called up to have a short, three question interview, and the order was already predetermined by our appointment letters. Mine had “#5” on the top, so I felt pretty lucky. That is until the woman started going around to check everyone’s identification photos for their PR cards.

Tip for those who might be going through this: follow the directions for getting your photos done very closely. If you don’t, then this is the part of the process that will suck for you. The job of this woman was to take a transparent photocopy, lay it over your photos, and check it to be sure that it falls within the requirements. Seems like the first eight people she got to all had it wrong, and they were sent up and around the corner to get new ones right away. They could get them done and get back for their appointment, but that’s going to set you back at least twenty minutes in the whole process, if not more. So plan ahead, and plan carefully.

Sigh of relief, she approved mine. The guy with a Chinese passport sitting next to me said it right, “Thank god, another eighteen bucks I don’t have to spend.” No kidding.

He was #3 on the top of his paper, and #4 got sent out for new photos. My name was called only to have the first interview with the table in complete view and ear shot of the entire group. The other two tables were tucked behind the wall, so only I could see them when I came around the corner.

Three questions, of which I don’t completely recall, but it was purely basic things, essentially verifying that I am who I say I am and intend on going through with this. Then there is that question I always hate; “Have you been convicted of any crimes or misdemeanors during your stay in Canada?” The truth is that I haven’t, but when she asks this, and this is common anytime I’ve run into this question during this whole process, the head comes up, pen gets set down, they look you squarely in the eye, and then they ask the question.

At that point, you hope you don’t flinch or give them any reason to be suspicious. Sure, they can do a background check, but that could take weeks, if not months to do, and here you are, just moments away from getting that document signed and stamped. All you want is for this incessant waiting to be over.

Charter Verification of my personal data, three signatures, the voiding of all other temporary resident permits[wiki], and a handshake later, I’m in. In a room full of people like that, you truly understand that something special just happened, and the people still waiting kinda smile back at you in anticipation of their turn, an unspoken understanding of all the paperwork, fees, waiting, and uncertainty that you’ve gone through together.

This whole time, you’ve been escorted from point to point, but the pathway out of the building is devoid of anyone and anything. The only way is to the exit, so I try to call Rebecca as soon as I’m out the door. 1:32PM? She was busy at work, but I could not believe that just took over a half hour to get my landed immigrant status. When I talked to her fifteen minutes later, she thought something might be wrong. Nope. I’ll be getting my PR card within six weeks of the appointment, but in the meantime, they gave me a copy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to enjoy until it shows up.

Gearing up to get my landed status

Something I’m going to try and start doing in the next few weeks is to talk more about the process of immigrating to Canada that Rebecca and I have been going through. And it really is a conjoined process for the person who is sponsoring someone to immigrate as well as the person who is immigrating. Basic, simple low down to what that means is that you need time, patience, money, and attention to detail. A good lawyer doesn’t hurt either, but there are those that have done okay without.

I have my appointment this week with immigration to finalize the landed status of my permanent residence process. I won’t have citizenship(because that’s another long, somewhat expensive process), but that means that they can’t kick me out of the country unless I really screw the pooch.

One thing I had to get is my own pictures for the PR card I’ll be getting issued this week. Basically, that’s the same as a green card in the U.S., and London Drugs has been a really good resource for getting any official photography done for this entire process.

However, be aware that with all of the madness going on for Canadians applying for passports (mainly due to the new travel restrictions for going to the U.S.) will cause you to deal with slow processing of getting said photos. London Drugs does the passport photos as well, and there must have been ten people in there today going for the same thing. I held up the place with my little PR card photos because the requirements are slightly different than that of passport photos, and they only had one camera at the location I went to.

At this point, I’ve got everything in place for my appointment. This will be the first time I will meet anyone face to face at Canadian Immigration, so there is a tad bit of apprehension. More so, just that nagging feeling that you want to make sure that you have everything you need. The way that immigration works in Canada, which can feel very lazy at times, it might be a couple weeks to a month before you can make another appointment if you forget something. Here’s hoping!

Canada Post owes me money

I’ve made my best effort to first spread the news to my family about my immigration status here in Canada. The good news is that my permanent residence application has gone through, and that has allowed me to apply for my open work permit. Alas, I will finally be able to have an income from within Canada, not that I was able to do much for myself from my homeland back in the states.

The thing is, applying for my open work permit was not as easy as we hoped. A small fee (small in terms of being less than a few hundred dollars compared to much of everything else that comes with this process) and an “Xpresspost” with Canada Post was all it takes to get that little piece of paper saying I can now be employed. Piece of cake, right?

Open Work Permit! Wrong. Checking that tracking number a few days after it was sent, the package, according to the Canada Post website, was still sitting at the post office in which we sent it from. The guarantee says that it was to be delivered two days after it was handed it to the nice lady who slapped the stickers on it for the mail truck to come take it away. Being three days later, it was time to call the mammoth.

To be honest, Canada Post was really pleasant on the phone. Very helpful, but had no clue as to where my parcel was. Yes, the parcel with fairly pertinent details of both of our lives. Crap! So what do we do? Open a trace. I’m not sure what that really accomplishes, but they gave me a reference number and said to call back to check on what they find in 7-15 business days.

Business days??? By that time, someone could take that parcel and become me in some foreign land somewhere. I’d say that they could live like a king, but the bank account wasn’t detailed, nor does it have a lot of kingly qualities to it right now. To say that we were a little concerned about this is a tad of an understatement, not to mention that the end of this month sees my ticket to stay in the country expire unless that permit comes through.

I called them about a week (in business days) later to find things still in a SNAFU. They found it “highly unusual” and would get back to me as soon as they found something out. If I didn’t hear anything within three days, then contact should be made to resolve the matter. Yeah, that makes me feel oh so confident.

Immigration PaybackThen a crazy thing happened. Checking the mailbox last week, there was my work permit, just sitting inside. I come into the apartment and hand it to Rebecca nonchalantly. Checking the tracking number earlier that afternoon on the website, Canada Post said it was still sitting in that same post office in Vancouver. Rebecca jumping up and down said otherwise.

Fast forward to today, and there is another letter in the mailbox that finalizes this chapter of the process. Canada Post sent me a check for the parcel they have seemingly lost. I’m sure it’s in their agreement of some sort, but they paid us back for the cost of sending the package. $15 isn’t going to get you much, maybe a box of wine, but it’s a funny conclusion to the whole thing.

Next time, we’ll entrust our life to someone else other than Canada Post, but they sure are swell to pay us back for the cost of sending something they have no idea how, where, or when the holy hell it got there. With a big thumb up, I say thanks Canada Post.

Edit: Ok, this story popped up this morning in regards to Canada Post and was just too precious to not pass on.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

In about a month, give or take one to five because the Canadian government is just that awesome with paperwork, I’ll have my green light to be fully employable. We haven’t had the bash to celebrate because this whole process has been a long story of hurry up and wait. It’s a multi-stage process where you’re happy to hear good news when you just start to abandon all hope. Then there is a wave of elation, followed by the reality of more paperwork that you have to send in to start the waiting process once again.

The biggest dilemma is the question that I’ve been fielding quite often lately, and Northern Voice was the worst places of all to have this come to be a moment of clarity. What do I want to do once I’m able to, legally, work?

That’s a lot harder for me to answer with a simple, concise, non-lengthy explanation. I have seven years experience in radio, a combination of on-air talent, production, producing, I.T. and engineering(not uncommon for people in radio these days to wear many hats). There’s the fact that I’m interested in all things new media, especially the world of podcasting and blogging.

I’ve been doing designing of websites since I was 16, wavering in and out of doing a lot of it. For a time, I worked for my parents where we had a side project doing this for local businesses in the town I grew up in, a different time and era for sure. Blogging has really brightened my understanding of PHP, SQL, and CSS a whole lot, and I’m in the middle of a couple of projects, unrelated to my current ones, that are using these skills in full force.

So when someone asks me this question of what do I want to do, it’s tough. Would I like to get into the radio market of Vancouver? Absolutely, and I’ve actually interviewed with a lot of the major players since first coming here in 2005, CKNW and Team1040 being a few prominent ones to mention. All those ventures came up short when they get to that part about having the necessary status that makes you legit for getting a paycheck.

I’m gearing up to start the hunt when the time comes, but there is no simple answer to the question. I’ve had the past year and a half to think about it, and during that time, I’ve watched a lot of opportunity pass me by, if not slip through my fingers. That’s bound to change, and Rebecca can’t wait until she can have me out of the apartment more often. Quite frankly, I can’t either.

Trust me, everything I have done in life has been an earnest effort of tackling it with persistence. More than a few people in Vancouver have mentioned that about me, and I hope that was a compliment.

Traveling along the US-Mexico border

In the last year, I’ve become fascinated with the southern border of the U.S. My grandmother crossed the Rio Grande when she was very young, long before a border patrol was established. In those days, it was more considered to be open rather than guarded at all.

A journalist for the Guardian Unlimited recently wrote about his experience of traveling the length of the recent hot topic in Washington, going from west to east. Gary Younge paints a unique perspective about the border and the people who live there, literially on the front lines.

About 10 minutes’ walk from Reyes’s office flows a stretch of the Rio Grande about 15 metres wide. As I drove down to take a look, a car full of people was leaving in the opposite direction. Alone on the bank was a teenage boy with four tyres and a heap of wet clothes. He wasn’t answering any questions, except about fishing, and after a while the car came back empty and picked him up.

At the city of Del Rio, the river starts the first of its elaborate curves before it heads south towards the Chisos Mountains while the main road heads north. A 200-mile detour down back roads hugging the border takes you through towns and hamlets that have occasionally been used for spaghetti western sets. Most look desolate. Then Lajitas, a luxury resort that bills itself as the ultimate hide-out, emerges like a mirage.

At Lajitas the cheapest room in low season goes for $175 a night and the most expensive cottage is $825. For the Texas beau monde there are weekly flights in private jets from Dallas and “Get out of the Dog House” packages for the negligent businessman, which offer prickly pear margaritas and Mexican wedding cookies on your arrival and two 50-minute massages. Behind the hotel complex runs the Rio Grande. On the Mexican side live four extended families; a boat is tied up at the riverside. The nearest official border crossing is in Presidio, 50 miles away. Every day, to avoid the 100-mile round trip, people cross the river by boat in a couple of minutes. You can see their footprints on the Texan side. The afternoon I arrived a man was nipping back to Mexico to repay a debt to a friend. The next day Ms Rodriguez rowed her two children and a rooster over to see their grandmother in Mexico. [guardian]

That’s just a portion of the article, but it’s a good example of the many stories that this issue has. There is also a slideshow with audio commentary by Carlos Cazalis, who photographed the journey along the way.

During my days at KRUI, a group of us made our way to Austin, TX for SXSW. One wrong turn and we were being beckoned by a few hundred day laborers that were standing on a street corner. A couple people freaked out, thinking that we were about to be robbed. I had a quick sense as to what was happening, but there was really no use to explain. One u-turn and we were heading back towards 6th Street, the place where everything seems to be happening in Austin. Clubs, good shows, and great food.

It’s that easy to forget that this problem exists. I’ll be damned if there’s an easy solution though. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev recently compared the building of the 700-mile long fence on the southern U.S. border to that of the Berlin Wall[mywesttexas]. It’s not that far of a stretch, but maybe I’m missing the element that says “cooperative effort for a solution” in the thing that represents “keep out”.

The pains of not having the right papers

I had a job interview today. This is the most recent one since coming to Vancouver, and it continues the list of jobs that I can’t have because of my immigration status. It’s a topic that I plan on getting into more once the process gets closer to completion, but I don’t want to start on it yet. No doubt about it though. It’s a crazy one, and as an American coming to Canada, it’s not a simple thing to do. Patience is a virture, if not a must.

The interview today went well, but there is very little chance that I’ll get it. I don’t want to get into the specifics of who it was with, but it’s something right up my ally, on par with what I used to do back in the states. They want somebody in the next few weeks, and my status is set to come through any day now. That could mean this afternoon or in two months. That doesn’t help me too much.

It’s a pain. Maybe heartbreak is the better way to say it. Every job that I have applied for in Vancouver, since moving here, has given me an interview. Some of them have been radio stations, and some have gone as far as checking my references from previous employers. That says a lot. They want to hire me, but it’s that lack of go ahead from Immigration Canada that stops everything. I’ve had a company go as far as saying I was hired only to have the same problem. Seriously, if you know some one who can kick the process in the pants for me, I’d be forever in your debt.

The folks I met today were really great, and I wouldn’t put it past a few of them to fire up the Google and find the blog here. If so, hey guys, great time meeting you today and checking out the setup. Very, very cool stuff. Would love to be apart of the fun.

That’s probably the hardest thing, too. I like to take whatever I do and make it fun, including anything that involves “work”. Pride in your work. Enjoying what you do. I’m itching to start doing something in this city because there are times where I feel everything passing me by. Rebecca sees it, and I know my time is coming. All in due time, right? Trust me, I’m not whining or complaining. I’m just ready.