Visa refusal may keep McGill student apart from mother on graduation day

After five years of classes, papers and exams, Sara Albouz will walk across the stage and get her diploma at the end of next month.

The McGill University civil engineering student will have friends in the audience at the ceremony, but it doesn't look like the one person with whom she really wants to celebrate her accomplishment will be in attendance.

"The prospect of graduating without my mom here is very upsetting. It's a moment we've been looking forward to since I moved here, and it's sad it might be taken away from us," she said.

Both Albouz and her mother, Maha Matraji, are Syrian. Matraji lives in the United Arab Emirates and has tried twice to get a Canadian temporary resident visa, also known as a visitor visa, in order to visit her daughter and attend her graduation.

She was rejected both times.

"I've been watching my daughter, growing up and travelling to Canada, which is a very long distance. I see her barely once a year, for a few days. As a mother, of course I am looking forward to seeing my daughter on stage," she said on CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada declined to comment about the case, citing privacy laws.

Rejection with no clarification

Both mother and daughter are Syrian passport holders, but Matraji said she has been a permanent resident of the United Arab Emirates for 27 years and works for an American company there.

She initially applied for the visa in March, saying she planned to come to Canada for a week and return home. She provided letters from her employer and from McGill about the graduation ceremony.

Matraji said that application was rejected 12 days after she submitted it. The letter she received said the purpose of the visit wasn't explained and her immigration status wasn't included, which she says isn't true.

She tried again, this time adding a number of other documents to her application, including:

- A cover letter stating why she was coming to Canada and her intention to return to the U.A.E.

- A copy of her return plane ticket, which showed she would leave in early June.

- More specific letters from her employer and from McGill.

- Financial documents.

- Photocopies of passports belonging to a number of family members, to prove she has familial ties to the U.A.E. The majority of their family members, including Matraji's parents, who are seniors, and her 16-year-old son, live in Abu Dhabi, she said.

Matraji says she was sent the exact same rejection letter she received the first time, with no indication of what other documents were required.

"I'm helpless. I really don't know what kind of documents [I need]," she said.

Both mother and daughter say they have no idea why this is happening. Matraji said she has been granted a four-year visitor visa to Canada before, never stayed longer than 10 days at a time and doesn't have a criminal record.

Albouz mused that it could be related to the fact that her mother has a Syrian passport, and given the recent influx of Syrian refugees, officials may think she wants to stay in Canada.

But that, they say, is just a guess.

Graduating alone?

McGill has confirmed they provided Matraji with a letter to include with her application.

"We hope that Sara's mother will be able to join her at the convocation ceremony, however, this decision is Immigration and Citizenship Canada's and we understand that they take many factors into consideration when making such decisions," Kathleen Massey, McGill University registrar, said in an emailed statement.

Albouz has contacted her local MP, Marc Miller, for help with the situation. They are supposed to meet tomorrow.

"I do ... see a number of cases that do offer, in some circumstances, a compelling reason to review it, so we ask with all respect that the file be reviewed but again we can't influence whether it is or it isn't in the end," Miller said.

Albouz said she is holding out hope her mom will be allowed to come to Canada, but she is frustrated and mentally preparing to graduate without any family members in the audience.

Matraji said it would be sad to miss the moment she's been looking forward to for the last five years. 

"I don't need more than seven days, that's it. I am willing to ... sign anything they want me to, just for me to come and see her. That's it. This is my only request."