I read a story about a family whose Canadian citizenship was revoked due to lies they told about living in Canada when they were actually in other countries. This is a big no-no: most countries require you to live there for a certain amount of time before obtaining citizenship, and once you become a citizen you need to live in the country for a certain amount of time each year to keep the benefits of citizenship (such as “free” healthcare in Canada).
Every once in a while there’s a news report about people who accidentally or purposely jeopardize their status in a country—some are caught and some are not. My family’s experiences have definitely affected how I’d react if I was faced with a tricky situation—I may end up with enemies, but so be it.
My family’s journey to Canadian citizenship
Canada was only supposed to be a temporary home when we arrived in 1985—my dad came here as a student and we tagged along—once he got his PhD we would be brought back home. But when my dad finished his studies and was ready to return, he was told that the deal was no more, so my parents decided to make the best of their situation (a recent graduate with no job in his field, working selling vacuums door to door and working in a warehouse while looking for a job, and a stay at home mom to four children working evenings in the food industry) and pursue a status in Canada to give their family more options in the future.
Permanent residency — First attempt
My parents applied for permanent residency after my dad graduated. While waiting for their interview, my dad got a job so we moved to the only Canadian province that has its own permanent residency process (they learned this later). During the residency interview, the interviewer tried to help my parents by saying something like “But even though you live in province Y now, you still have an address in Province X, right?”. The interviewer asked versions of this question more than once, as if to encourage my parents to answer in a way that would allow them to get their residency. They didn’t lie; as a result their application for permanent residency was refused and the interviewer cried because she felt so bad for them.
Permanent residency — Second attempt
So the second time was a breeze—hah! They applied from Province Y and were called up, but this time the application was rejected because of a Catch 22: my dad needed permanent residency to get a long-term contract from his employer, but the government wanted evidence of a long-term contract before approving the permanent residency application! Well God showed up and gave my dad the wisdom to explain this challenge to the interviewer in a way that they understood and finally the initial rejection was reversed.
Canadian citizens at last!
Five years after that, we became Canadian citizens. I remember my parents having to study for an exam about Canada which they had to pass before they could be sworn in as Canadians. My sister and I were just young enough that we didn’t have to write the exam, and my brothers were born in Canada so they didn’t have to do this.
Bringing in non-immediate family as immediate family
We probably all know someone who brought relatives who were not immediate family in as immediate family, for example, someone bringing in a niece or nephew and calling him or her a biological child. In cultures where people don’t make a big deal of distinguishing between a sibling or cousin, the definition of what makes someone an immediate family member can be seen as an annoyance, not something to be taken seriously.
My mom is the oldest of 11 children and the youngest child in her family, my aunt, is only three years older than me. During our time in Nigeria (1982-1985) she lived with our family and was treated like my parents’ first born. See us in our matching outfits:
When we we left Nigeria there were people who thought my aunt should go with us as my parents’ child, but my parents couldn’t do it.
Choosing the illegal life
A very close family member told my sister and I in 1994 that he needed to get out of Nigeria. He spoke with my dad and my dad told him what he should do to get out legally, but three months after that conversation we learned that our relative had found his way to one European country, then another. For years we feared for his life, due to phone calls we’d receive at all hours of the night, telling us of the many hardships he was facing (jail, starvation) and asking for support. It took over a decade for him to get a more stable (and I believe legal) status, but at a financial and emotional cost to family members that is hard to forget. Another relative chose this path in the last few years and it’s stressful.
It would be nice to have extended family close by, and my parents have always tried to help cousins and siblings who wanted to make a life in Canada. But they draw the line at deception and as a result, none of my parents’ siblings have made it here. This has been the cause of a lot of friction through the years, and every time we visit the conversations that I hear from people who feel they’ve been abandoned because we don’t want to share the mild and honey flowing in Canada is a broken record. The guilting and lies that have been spread are frustrating to hear; how my parents turn the other cheek is beyond me (and I’ve definitely spoken my mind once or twice, ahem, even though I know my words fall on deaf ears).
What I didn’t do for love
I thought I had met the man I was going to marry a few years back, and when we both decided to pursue the relationship, we tried to find a way for him to come here legally…well, I tried to. He wanted us to marry immediately (as in three weeks after meeting in person for the first time) and start processing his papers; I felt we didn’t know each other well enough and I insisted that we try another method. This other method required the submission of an application which was denied and our relationship fizzled soon after that.
We tend to romanticize what we don’t have: just as some think the immigrant life is bliss, my siblings and I have always felt that we were missing out by living so far away from our cousins, especially as we see how close they are. I know I’m blessed to have had the life I’ve had (which does have its hardships), but I may never feel the desperation some feel to leave their home, so, it’s easy for me to say that I would never do x, y, or z.
On the other side, there are many people who would never leave the lives they’ve built for themselves to move to another country—I think it’s great and underlines that we can thrive anywhere.
It’s not easy to do the right thing, especially when there’s short-term suffering involved, but in the end it’s worth being able to sleep easy and live openly in another country, without fear of your lies one day catching up with you.
What’s the craziest citizenship or status-in-another-country story you’ve heard?