A Nova Scotia mother who spent most of 2020 trying to bring her family stuck in southwest Africa home to Canada says she feels trapped in a bureaucratic mess.
Pat Parker's son, Rob, is from Nova Scotia and has been living in Namibia with his wife and their three young kids for about a decade.
Last spring, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians abroad to return home, the Parkers quickly began getting the necessary paperwork in order. Parker said she hired an immigration lawyer, "and did everything they asked me to do by March 20."
But she's still waiting to reunite with her family.
"It's been months and months and months and months," Parker, who lives in Blandford, told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Wednesday.
Her daughter-in-law, Anna, is from Namibia and not a Canadian citizen, so she requires a temporary resident visa to come to Canada.
Biometrics causing delay
The problem is that she needs to submit biometrics, such as an electronic fingerprint, in order to complete that application.
She can't do that anywhere in Namibia and would need to travel to the Canadian embassy in Pretoria, South Africa.
Parker wants the Canadian government to waive the biometric requirement and allow her daughter-in-law to complete that step once she arrives in Nova Scotia, where she's visited twice before.
"She's not putting anybody at risk here. We just want a waiver. You know, we're not asking for anything extraordinary," said Parker.
She said it's too expensive and too risky for her daughter-in-law to travel to South Africa where there has been a recent surge in coronavirus cases.
"She won't go. She's afraid to go," Parker said. "There's a variant strain there now, and why would you put yourself at risk to bring that back home to someone who's at risk?"
Life in Namibia is difficult
Parker's son has a rare type of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis that causes stiffness in the spine, and he has been largely stuck inside since the spring.
He said life is difficult for his family right now.
"My business has been hit hard because it relied on me interacting with the public. I had to pull my children out of school as a precaution in March and are having to educate them at home for the time being," he wrote in an email to CBC News.
He said the pandemic made him realize he wants his kids to be close to their relatives in Canada. While he's been stuck in Namibia, his father passed away and he wasn't able to return home for the funeral.
"This process has been really frustrating," he said. "They have put us through every process imaginable, including asking for documents they are already in possession of, asking us to write a letter explaining the delay, and requesting that we purchase tickets before they process our paperwork."
The couple's three children, ages two, four and 10, applied for their Canadian citizenship in 2020. Parker said they're being told to buy the plane tickets to Nova Scotia before their documents can be issued, but she fears the necessary paperwork won't be ready on time.
That would be "financially catastrophic for me," said Parker, who has largely been supporting the family financially.
Exemptions possible for 'urgent and extreme' cases
She has been in regular contact with her member of parliament, Bernadette Jordan. Parker said she was told Jordan spoke directly to federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino about her family's case.
A spokesperson for Jordan's office referred questions from CBC News to the Immigration Department.
Mendicino's office said it could not comment on specific cases but that in general, anyone who applies for a temporary resident visa must submit biometrics.
"There are no temporary COVID-19 measures that waive the biometric requirements for them (as opposed to some applicants who are already in Canada and renewing their documents)," press secretary Alexander Cohen wrote in an email to CBC News.
Still, Cohen said that exemptions can be made in some cases.
"In certain difficult or complex situations, TRV [temporary resident visa] applicants can apply for an exemption from the biometrics requirements, which are specially granted in urgent and extreme cases," he said. "These can be submitted through our web form, and must be accompanied by supporting documentation, which will be reviewed by a visa officer."
Parker said in all the communication she's had with government officials since March, there was no mention of an exemption form, only that a request to expedite the process had been submitted on March 26.
"Why can't we just ... get this family home?" she said.
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