Don’t jeopardize your citizenship!

I read a story about a family whose Canadian citizenship was revoked due to lies they told about living in Canada when they were actually in other countries.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.

cdn citizens

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:

3-amigas-embellished

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.

Family pressure

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.

Disclaimer

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?

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12 thoughts on “Don’t jeopardize your citizenship!

  1. Nice post. My friend was not so smart. She met a man fell in love and they wanted to do all the right things. Its a long story but skipping past the lies…he ended up here (US) married her…stayed married for two years I think it was and then he divorced her and brought his wife from naija with his kids! Talk about devastated. And to top it all off, he wasn’t working during their marriage so she footed the bill for the time they dated, paid for the visa the marriage everything…then he just left her. I always ask if she knew she starts crying saying she shouldve paid closer attention. That she was just so much wanting to be married she ignored the red flags. Well…I hope people learn a lesson.

    • Welcome, Tiffanie, and thank you for sharing this story. I feel for your friend; what a hard lesson this must have been for her heart! How is she doing now? I pray that she’s been able to move on from the feelings of betrayal and deception she must have experienced.

  2. I have had my share. It took me about 13 straight years to get permanent residency in the UK. All this because i chose to do things the right way. I know people who arrived 7 years after me and have moved on from permanent residency to passport in little over 4 years. It sure hurts when I think about how long I have had to wait. Even though I have been on all manner of visas, i have had a fulfilling life, I have traveled the world on my naija passport. Ironically, i only see getting a UK passport as a “back-up” which will make travelling “easier” and probably open up other opportunities. I am grateful for it.
    One thing i could have never done was to marry for passport or do something dodgy or even gather the liver to lie for residency. I thank God i never found myself in that kind of situation sha although i know plenty who have even used their passport to make money through marriage.

    • BAM!!!

      I lived in the US for 14 years, from student to worker, and when I moved back to Nigeria, I told them I’d chosen to give up my job there and stay back in Nigeria. People are always like, “How can you live there for so long and nothing to show for it?” Erm, I chose not to do things illegally!!!

      I acknowledge that some people are desperate and in dire need of residency/citizenship, and I have never been in those shoes, so I can’t knock them too much.

    • Oh, well said, Tolatino (and welcome!). Kudos for you for going the slow and steady (and legal) route—I’m glad your Nigerian passport didn’t hinder your movements at all.

      I agree with you on marrying for a passport—let’s just thank God that isn’t something we’ve had to consider.

  3. Do you know why I like you Jummy? Because of your honesty.

    When we went for our visa interview, we were asked just 3 questions, we answered it truthfully, and it was less than 5 mins. I also believed GOD’S favour was upon us.

    One cannot avoid making foes because there are some people who wants to take advantage of ones vulnerability kindness! Let me use this medium to advise new Immigrants to be careful with their info and hand of friendship, especially large families, because they are seen as cash cows to be milked!

    We’ve being in USA for just 2 years GNG! But the demands that comes in, is so surprising! Wait o! Not from our immediate family, but from friends! These friends are working o. GNG, we are still trying to stand on our feet! I don’t like to beat my own drum, but in this case, I would make an exception and say, I and my family live prudently while back home and even here, so I don’t understand why people would not live within their own means! It is so annoying! Imagine, laying down my own priorities and following them strictly, and some people expect us to be father xmas?

    Two of our relatives, want to come over by force by fire! We bluntly told them the true situation of living abroad illegally, and we would not help or accommodate them!

    When some people in diaspora give the false impression back home that they are living in eldorado, who would not want to come to a place of milk and honey? I know of someone who is always posting pictures of the good times she is having on her page, whenever I see it, I just grin, because I know ‘wetin-dey!’

    Yes! Living here is far comfortable than living back home and I am eternally grateful to GOD for bringing I and my family to the land of liberty and the brave, but the kind of ‘free’ money people get back home, they would not get it here, because there is dignity in labour and accountability!

    • Aww, thank you, New Dawn!

      Wow, I’d love to hear more about your visa process: this is an area I don’t know much about. I’m thankful that God rewarded your faithfulness and that you and your family are enjoying life in the States.

      Oh my dear…I can relate 100% with the rest of your comment, especially this idea of people who paint an unrealistic picture of what it’s like to live in diaspora. There may be a small majority who were filthy rich before they left Nigeria and are living like kings abroad, but the majority are doing as your family is doing: living prudently and trying to help their family back home when they can. So when the unreasonable demands and ungratefulness come, it’s hard not to get annoyed.

      I hope you continue to enjoy life in the States and prosper!

  4. I don’t believe in illegal ways to get citizenship but I also do not like countries (US) that act like they own the earth. Especially if you consider that Americans got this land from native americans. Can you tell that I am bitter? Lol. I have been in this country since 1999. Came in on a student visa, then transitioned to work visa which is what I am still on. My future job in a few months will either begin the permanent residency process for me or my sig other and I get married first. Not sure which will be coming first but it will be the legal way and yes it takes a looong time, and many times I am in situations where i feel i have the same rights as someone who swam across the river e.g limited driver’s license

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