Migration adventures of a globe trotter

Learning to wait patiently in a world of instant solutions

plane-windowI never imagined I would some day have trouble entering a country. A girl with two nationalities, having lived in a third country and visited more than a dozen. Was this possible? Had I made a mistake?

Rewind. I apply to a study year abroad and get accepted in Canada. My acceptance letter arrives at home as I am in the middle of travels in my own country. A month to do the paperwork it says. Great, I will start in July to have 2 months to do it. But, it turns out it’s a month for each document and I need 3. Not enough time to get them all. I ask, and am told that once in Canada I can change my address, to get the last document needed after my arrival. I am confident. But then… THIS happens at border control:

  • Can I have your official documents please ma’am?
  • Yes: Acceptance letter to university. Permission to enter Quebec.
  • What about the letter to Study in Canada?
  • Ummm… I was told I could change my address once I was here and receive it at my Canadian address.
  • No… You can’t do that, but… wait a minute. Officer walks away and then comes to check documents on the computer.

(…)

  • You started the process, right?
  • Yes.
  • Please follow me.

After being passed from one official to another and then a third, and hearing different people discuss my situation I am called up to the counter for a conversation that lasted over 10 minutes but for brevity’s sake has been reduced to the essential:

  • You cannot enter the Canadian territory; you need the Study permit.
  • I have a tourist visa; could I enter that way until I receive the permit?
  • No ma’am.
  • That study permit is for people who will stay longer than 6 months. So could I start studying and give it to you before the 6 months are up?
  • No ma’am, you cannot enter. We are sending you back to Peru.
  • Even if I enter as a visitor?
  • If you enter as a tourist, you are not allowed to study. We don’t have the resources to verify that you are not going to classes, so we cannot allow you to enter.

I am asked to sit down while they check flight times and print off some legal documents. Moment of sadness and then joy of knowing I will see family and friends briefly. I contact my family to let them know things did not go as planned. I am surprised at how calm I am and how I have not shed a tear yet.

Someone else seems to have a problem entering the territory, another Peruvian as a matter of fact. His migration situation is complicated; it seems he has been living in Ecuador illegally since 2000. The officer even has access to e-mails he exchanged with his brother about work and other issues. I think to myself: We might end up on the same plane back to Peru. He is asked to sit down and eventually let through to collect his luggage. I guess I might get through too then.

I am called back up:

  • Your last stop was the USA. We are sending you back there. You will be happy about that.

I think: Well I was starting to get happy about being back home but oh well… So I just say:

  • Thank you, it will be closer so I can come back as soon as the document is issued.

I sit down again and it’s time to let people know in the US that I am coming back and break any hopes of me coming back to Peru.

I am asked to sign a document saying I am willingly desisting from entry to the country and will leave immediately. I kind of have no other choice. I am warned. If the document I needed were not issued or I did not sign this letter I would not only have to leave but would not be able to come back to Canada for 1 year. I should consider myself fortunate nothing would be put on my record for this. Whatever the administrative facts, the events that followed made me feel as if I were being deported.

caseI am escorted to the case conveyor (2 hours after my plane actually landed… miracle that the stuff was still there). My escort takes the cart; I am not allowed to touch my cases. I am asked to sit in a waiting room while he checks in my bags for my flight back to the US, he also takes my passport.

Once my cases are checked in, a female escort comes to take me to the gate area. I get through hand luggage check where the officer flirts with my escort and I find out she has a masters degree in psychology.

I get through the fast lane to passport control and the officer must have been quite confused, our conversation was as follows:

  • Where is your residency?
  • Peru.
  • He looks at the passport I handed him… Where is the British passport from then?
  • My mum is Welsh.
  • Oh, and how long were you in Canada for?
  • Since this morning.
  • What did you do?
  • Try to get in, to study.
  • Where are you going now?
  • Denver.
  • Why?
  • Well that is where they are sending me. I was there for a week, till yesterday, before coming here.
  • For how long?
  • Maximum 2 weeks. Till I get the student permit I need to get into Canada.
  • What were you going to study?
  • Communications and human relations
  • And who pays for that?
  • I chuckle… The French government.
  • What?! How did that happen?
  • I studied in a French school in Lima and did the French baccalaureate. I then got a scholarship for 5 years of study in France. I’ve been there for 2.
  • He smirks. I bet the French taxpayers love that. So, why Canada?
  • I can do my third year abroad… So…
  • Not for now you can’t.

He winks at my escort and moves us on. I get to go through all the back doors and secret passageways. My escort holds on to my passport and tells me I have an hour for lunch where I can be free but she will still hold onto my documents until it’s time to board.

I buy myself a unicorn. A reminder of my shortest stay in a country to date and most importantly a token that shows me miracles are possible. If this unicorn exists, I am quite sure I can get back to Canada sooner than anyone thinks. I eat a vegetarian bagel and sit to wait.

My new escort turns up and he seems quite in a hurry. He tells me not to stand up and just wait seated. He speaks to the flight attendant. He calls me up. The plane is not ready to leave yet but I am allowed on. I am escorted to the door of the plane and am told while he hands me back my passport, “I am sorry to have to say it in these circumstances but I hope you have a safe flight…”.

plane-to-myselfI have a plane to myself for a few minutes until others are allowed to board. I do feel deported. I wonder what other people were thinking while I was being accompanied around and given special treatment. I ask myself how many people have lived through this.

My cases get lost in Chicago on my connecting flight. Fortunately, I had a change of clothes in my hand luggage and they tracked my cases so they can get them to my temporary address the next day.

Four days later I am back on a plane, on my way to Montreal. I know the airport by heart and all its secret passage ways. I even know about the special student line I just needed to sign in online for. I am arriving 12 hours later than the previous time so assume it will be a different shift and no one will know what had happened. I am wrong.

denver-montrealAn officer gestures me to come forward and as he sees my passport he says, “Oh, you finally got it. Not too long of a wait, huh?”
The immigration boss who had made me sign my departing paper is also around. I decide to say hi and she says she had seen my name on the list earlier and was wondering when I would stop by. Everyone seems to be smiling more although it is midnight, no frown in sight.

A week later I decide to join a sailing adventure just across the border in the States. After a beautiful sunny day sailing it’s time to head back to Canada. The car behind must have been quite annoyed because the officer took quite some time figuring out what had happened at the airport. After phone calls, questions (“You had an adventure at the airport, huh?”) and passport revision I am finally let back into the country. I guess I do have some sort of negative immigration record I will have to live with now… But I also have quite an unusual adventure to tell and remember with a smile and gratitude.

car-ride

 

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