I love ethics, but it was a long route to get there. After successfully dropping out of a BEng in Mechanical Engineering, I got my BA in Communication Studies. Trying to reconnect with my attraction for engineering and science, while pursuing my passion for philosophy, I moved to the UK from my home country, Portugal, and got a Master’s in Philosophy of Cognitive Science at the COGS interdisciplinary department at University of Sussex. While studying natural and artificial cognition (AI), I looked into computer models of ethical agents, and I was hooked. During a stint in the Media department at Goldsmiths College, in London, I learned I should be in a philosophy department instead. I finally got my PhD in Ethics from the University of Manchester, where I worked under the supervision of Peter Goldie, a student of Bernard Williams.
The Summer of Vasco
If you want to know about my forced “holidays” from teaching, between February 2015 and September 2016, keep reading. I had been living in Canada for 7 years, and teaching full-time at BC Institute of Technology for 2.5 years, when Immigration Canada refused to process a second permanent residence application, after a first one had been rejected due to a simple misunderstanding they refused to clarify. Although an email or phone call would have easily solved the issue in a matter of minutes, instead I had to quit my job, break up with my partner and leave the country. CBC covered my story.
This was not the most pleasant of times, as I was unable to work, had to live off my meagre savings while they lasted, and was finally forced to leave Canada, then struggling to find a job in Europe, having missed the beginning of term. But I applied for permanent residence in Canada yet again, and got it very quickly indeed under the new Express Entry system, because of course I always qualified.
Mistakes happen, but why can’t a simple mistake with such serious consequences be quickly corrected? This shouldn’t have happened, and it shouldn’t happen to anyone else. Why can’t Immigration Canada (now IRCC – Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) create an appeal procedure? Write to your MP. Applicants have a right to an appeal procedure.
The whole story
My first application for permanent residence (Canadian Experience Class) was denied in April 2014 on the grounds that I failed to prove that my claimed work experience (at the time, over a year of teaching 12-15 hours a week, plus associated duties) constituted what Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) considered one year of full-time experience. The only justification available to me was this:
“In reaching this decision, I considered your employment at BCIT since May 30, 2012 (as stated in the reference letter of June 25, 2013) with 12 to 15 hours of work week. Employment is considered full-time with 30 or more hours of work in a week.”
When I first read this, I was convinced that the officer had oddly thought that teaching 12-15 hours a week was a part-time job (it is obviously a demanding full-time job, with all the preparation, marking and admin). It took me several contacts with CIC through my MP, further contact through the media following province-wide CBC coverage, and other contacts through a BCIT journalism student, in order for me to know exactly why my application was denied.
It turned out there was different, equally odd reason for my failed application. The officer seems to have read a reference letter from my department as stating that I work 12-15 hours a week in total. A simple misunderstanding, then. But this is a letter that shows that I have a full-time income, and explicitly states that I teach full-time. Bizarrely, rather than contacting my department to clarify the obvious contradiction, my application was failed outright, with no possibility of appeal or submitting additional documents (the Canadian Experience Class route, supposedly designed for the most promising of all immigrants, does not allow it). My emails were not replied to, and the documents I sent following the denial, to confirm my work experience, were not read – later I was to know this is a matter of CIC policy. If I wanted to have an additional letter read, with more precise wording that would hopefully satisfy the officer, I would have to send a full application again.
Since I initially didn’t know the real reason why my application was rejected, I thought that I would have to accumulate three years of full-time work experience so that CIC would recognize that I have 1 year of experience. So when I had one year of experience in the classroom alone (close to three years of full-time work), I applied for permanent residence again.
My second application for permanent residence (also CEC) was sent back to me on February 9th 2014 without having even been considered. CIC reached a cap for that class in October 20th 2014, but allowed applicants to continue submitting applications, only posting the information about the cap having been reached in February 2015. This latest blunder affects me and thousands of others, and immigration lawyer Michael Niren said on CBC on Feb 6th that “there could be good grounds for a class action suit”.
It is bad for Canada’s economy to lose qualified applicants due to silly technicalities. Refugees deserve help and generosity, but successful immigrants like me don’t need to ask for that. They should ask for fairness, and they should get it. I qualified for permanent residence according to Canada’s own policies, and it was only procedural peculiarities and lack of transparency that kept me from getting it. I came to Canada with valued qualifications from the UK, paid for by a EU scholarship, and no student debt.
I heard stories of people like me, who also got in trouble for arbitrary reasons. Such as the PhD in engineering at University of British Columbia who was told he wasn’t a research assistant because his boss didn’t specifically state in his letter to Immigration that he “assisted with research”. He only stated that this PhD was a research assistant… Is this a good reason to expel this super qualified engineer from the country? Others like me came with the required experience, the language skills, and were already fully integrated in Canada when they were prevented from working, forced to apply again (with all the costs and insecurity this entails), or forced to leave.
In order to process applications effectively, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) needs more staff (instead of cutbacks), and staff that is properly paid and under less pressure to process applications quickly. Only staff that is fully qualified (not casual workers) is able to interpret the spirit of immigration rules, rather than blindly follow the letter of the rules. Following just the letter of rules, unsurprisingly, can result in arbitrary decisions, and very serious consequences that impact real people’s lives. Instead of making a 2-minute phone call to clarify a contradiction, one immigration officer cost my students their lecturer, made me lose my job, and compromised an investment of 7 years in a life in Canada. I don’t blame that single officer, but a system that does not allow for the correction of such mistakes is clearly broken. There should be an internal appeal procedure that does not require immigrants to spend tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. I am just one among many thousands who have suffered from these mistakes. The Toronto Star wrote a piece about a worrying high error rate by CIC, following CIC’s own internal report.