An Egyptian couple living as permanent residents in Canada say a Citizenship and Immigration mix-up has torn their young family apart and stranded their baby son in Cairo.

"I'm very upset. It's Adam's first birthday, he started walking the other day," said Samah Aboushady, who lives with her husband, Ahmed, and daughters Judy, 5, and Lara, 4, in Ontario.

"I wasn't there, I missed all that … when you miss his first steps, it will never happen again. He's growing, he's doing something new every day, and you're a mother and you're missing this."

Samah and Ahmed Aboushady and their daughters fled the tense situation in Egypt the year before the 2011 revolution.

The young family moved to the U.K. while they applied to come to Canada, and toward the end of 2012 Citizenship and Immigration accepted their application for permanent residency.

Ahmed, Samah, Judy, Adam and Lara Aboushady

The family were together when Adam was born in the U.K. in January 2014. (Aboushady family)

The family landed in Canada to make it official in March 2013, but then temporarily returned to the U.K. to finish the school year and prepare to permanently move to Canada.

By that time, Aboushady was pregnant with Adam, and the family planned to return to Canada in time for his birth.

But pregnancy complications made travel impossible, and in January 2014, Adam was born in the U.K. — posing a big problem for the couple.

Their new baby was neither British nor Canadian — he was Egyptian.

Immigration rejects baby's visitor's visa 

The couple sought the advice of an immigration firm, which told them the quickest solution would be to apply with "dual intent" — apply for a visitor's visa to bring Adam to Canada, then sponsor him to become a permanent resident while in the country.

But in July of last year, they got bad news — Citizenship and Immigration had rejected Adam's visitor visa.

That meant the couple had to consider the unthinkable. If they failed to return to Canada within a short period, they and their daughters would forfeit their permanent residency — but they couldn't take baby Adam, then just six months old, with them. 

"I was devastated, I couldn't stop crying, I was in disbelief. I didn't know what to do," Samah Aboushady told Go Public.

"At first I rejected the idea. I told [my husband], 'No, I'm not going. You can go and try to sort this out.'"

But she said it eventually become clear the couple had little choice. They could no longer stay in the U.K., so their only options were to go back to Egypt as a family or return to Canada without Adam.

"We have three children, so we have to do the best for all of them at the same time," said Aboushady, who was concerned Lara and Judy would not be able to adapt to life in Egypt.

"It [would be] very hard for them coping there. They [don't] know the language, they don't know about the education there. They don't know anything."

Samah and Ahmed Aboushady

Samah and Ahmed Aboushady are desperate to be reunited with their son. (CBC)

After much stress and debate, Samah and Ahmed Aboushady decided to temporarily leave Adam with his grandparents in Egypt and return to Canada with the two girls.

In November, the couple applied to sponsor Adam's permanent residency and hoped Citizenship and Immigration would be true to its online promise to fast-track reunification of children with their parents. 

Since the Citizenship and Immigration website says children are a priority, Ahmed Aboushady made sure to include a cover letter saying the application was for his son.

The family waited anxiously for more than two months to hear from immigration officials. On Jan. 20, they did get word, but not what they hoped to hear.

Citizenship and Immigration​ informed them the application was "incomplete," so the process was stalled until the family provided more paperwork.

The couple are still scrambling to get the missing information — waiting on paperwork from another government department, the Canadian Revenue Agency, before they can begin to hope of eventually being reunited with their son.

'Totally inhumane,' says ex-immigration adviser

Klaudios Mustaskas, who worked at Citizenship and Immigration​ for 37 years, first as a visa officer and then as a manager, is appalled by the case.  

"My personal reaction — it's totally inhumane," Mustaskas told Go Public.

"The case involves a child. The child is not going to be a security risk, it's not going to be taking a job from a Canadian or anything like that, so it's a no-brainer actually to accept the child as a visitor to come to Canada, then have the process take place in the normal manner."

Klaudios Mustakas, immigration consultant, ex-CIC, now with PACE in Ontario

Klaudios Mustakas, immigration consultant, calls the separation 'inhumane.' (CBC)

Now an immigration adviser for the Ontario law firm Pace, Mustaskas points to a Federal Court ruling that says applicants can have dual intent.

That means they can apply for permanent residency while also being a visitor in Canada.

"All the visa officer had to do is to apply common sense and issue the child a visitor's visa to come to Canada while the processing takes place," he said.

"Again, use positive discretion. Not everything is black and white. Immigration has a great deal of grey area."

'Our life is a nightmare'

Meanwhile, the family can only wait and hope, still stuck in the first stage of their application to sponsor baby Adam. 

Samah Aboushady said its feels like her family's dream of coming to Canada has turned into a nightmare, and the situation is taking a toll on her husband, too.

Judy, Adam and Lara Aboushady

Adam gets a hug from his sisters Judy and Lara. Their parents say the girls often ask why the family can't be together. (Aboushady family)

"What makes me more upset and frustrated, I have done everything I know to make things work, but I can't," said Ahmed Aboushady.

"Sometimes my wife is blaming me for even thinking about this step. Our life is completely a nightmare."

He said he constantly checks the immigration website for any idea of how long he could be waiting once they manage to send in the missing paperwork.

But processing times for the first stage of the application have only increased since he started trying to bring his son to Canada.

At the time of publication, the processing time for this first stage, which assesses the sponsor family, stood at 85 days. 

After that, the Aboushady family will then have to go through the Canadian Embassy in Cairo.

The embassy is responsible for the second stage of the process, assessing Adam as a person being sponsored, before issuing a visa that would allow him to come to Canada. 

At the time of publication, the processing time for this second stage was 18 months suggesting it could be more than a year before Adam is reunited with his parents.

Minister says Aboushady family failed to follow rules

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander's office turned down Go Public's requests for an interview, so we tracked him down at a public event in Toronto, where he agreed to look at Adam's file. 

Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Chris Alexander, minister of citizenship and immigration, says the rules apply to everyone, but that the process for Adam would be accelerated. (CBC)

He told Go Public the family is still separated because it failed to follow the rules in the right order, making the mistake of applying for Adam's visitor's visa first, before permanent residency.

"A parent who is looking after their children has to do the right things administratively, if they want the result that any family would want," said Alexander.

The minister said the problem has now been resolved, so the family should again apply for a visitor visa. Alexander told Go Public the ministry will speed up the process.

"They can apply for a visitor's visa for the child and those will be processed expeditiously. We want this family to be reunited."

Adam growing up 9,000 km away

Samah Aboushady and her husband know Adam is being cared for by family who love him, but they worry every moment they are apart.

Adam Aboushady

Adam is now living in Egypt with his grandparents. His mother Samah Aboushady worries her son is growing up without her. (Aboushady family)

"You feel guilty because he is my son and you can't protect him. If anything — God forbid — anything happens to him, we will never forgive ourselves because we left him there," she said.

The couple are concerned about the political unrest in Egypt and about the confusion the delays are causing their daughters, who often ask why the family can't be together.

But mostly, she said, they worry about their son who is growing up without them, 9,000 kilometres away. 

"At the end of the day — you're a parent and you want your family together. You don't care about anything else, you just want your family and that's it."


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