Exactly two years ago, I was completing my immigration papers to stay in Canada. I was 22 years old .
I had been working on the file for almost two months. I had gathered most of my paperwork after calling my parents back in France to have them send me my university transcripts and my birth certificate. I had gotten copies of pretty much everything looking official that immigration officers might like. I had proven I was healthy by having some blood – painfully – withdrawn from my of veins. I had ticked some many boxes on forms that my vision was blurred. I had typed countless “additional information” documents.
I just hadn’t realized what I had gotten myself into.
I was trying to finalize the file and to send it to Mississauga, Ontario, where it would be assessed. Then it would be forwarded to the Canadian Embassy in Paris where my life would be examined closely.
Now was the time to organize every paper I had gathered, and to complete the standard document. Name, Last name. Am I currently detained in a jail ? No. Have I been convicted of sexual offense ? No. List all former employees. List all the places you’ve been since you’re 18 or during the last 10 years, whichever is the longest. Say that. List that. Explain that. Justify that.
Once completed, my file was about 2 inches high.
The same question pounded in my head like a tune that wouldn’t stop playing : what if I’m refused permanent residence ? I knew I would eventually get it – why wouldn’t it ? – but the though of having to appeal the decision and the whole process behind it scared me. I would never have the money nor the strength to go through that.
I then went to the nearest bank to pay the processing fees. And the right of landing fees. May as well… It added up to $1 500 but I didn’t cringe. I knew what to expect. I just wanted to post the damn stuff and get rid of it. The brown envelope was heavy : pretty much all my savings and my whole life dissected was inside. I didn’t even make a copy of the file. I just couldn’t stand it. Whatever happens.
How long was the immigration processes going to take ? I had heard a lot of things. Six months for the lucky ones – the Westerners. One year if you forgot to tick the right box. Two years or more if you had to go for an interview with an immigration officer. Meanwhile, my working visa was expiring late November. I had no plan B : I had already used all the visas.
I grew up in Europe, in what’s called now the Schengen area with virtually no border control. I travelled everywhere in Europe and didn’t even need a passport, except to go to the UK. Some of my friends worked in Rome or in London, studied in Poland or were nannies in Holland. None of them had gone through immigration. I first heard of “visas” when I went to China when I was 16. And even then, getting a visa just involved filling up a couple of forms in Chinese stating I wasn’t a journalist or a human right activist, and paying a couple of hundreds Yuan. What did I know about immigration ?
Going through the immigration process was at the same time a rite of passage. My family had never been to Canada. I have various roots but all Europeans. Nobody I knew crossed the ocean. I felt like a pioneer. For the first time of my life, I didn’t have leader or a role-model. I had to explain my new life to my parents and my friends. I had chose a new country to live in – I felt so free.
I didn’t run away from anything. I just made a move on the big chessboard. I wasn’t really hoping for a better life or a new start. I didn’t really believe in the American dream. I just considered myself lucky to have a Western passport and wanted to make the most of it. I could immigrate to Canada ? Well, let’s try it then. I might like it there, up North.
For better or for worse.