Eight years after immigrating to Halifax, Racquel Talon has settled into life in Nova Scotia, first working as a live-in caregiver and then opening a house cleaning business with more than 30 clients.
But there's one big part of her life missing: her five children still live in the Philippines.
Nearly five years after she first applied to Citizenship and Immigration Canada to have them join her, their applications for permanent residence are still being processed.
"I call, but it's all the same. 'You have to wait,'" Talon said. "After three months, again I call and it's all the same. I have to wait."
Talon's case has caught the attention of nearly three dozen friends and clients who this fall signed a letter to federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander asking that he move things along.
The letter says they can't understand why processing the applications is taking so long. It also argues Talon is just the type of immigrant Nova Scotia needs and should not remain separated from her family.
'I think it creates hardship'
"I just think it's very unfair and I think it creates hardship on Racquel and her entire family unit," said Lori Barton, a friend who authored the letter to the minister.
The letter to the minister says Talon is "incredibly hard working, trustworthy, friendly and has easily assimilated into life in Canada."
Three of Talon's children are adults. One is trained as a nurse and two others are pharmacy technicians. She also has two younger children, 12 and 14 years old.
The last time she saw them was when she flew to the Philippines last Christmas. This year, she can't afford to make the trip.
"It's Christmas time again. I miss them so much," Talon said, tears streaming down her face.
Changes to program
This fall, the federal government announced a series of changes to the immigrant caregiver program it says will speed up the track to permanent residency.
One of the issues it said it seeks to address is the backlog of permanent residence applications, acknowledging this was leading to long periods of separation from loved ones.
It also said it was nearly doubling permanent residence admissions for caregivers this year.
A spokesman for the department said in an email that family reunification is an "integral part of Canada's immigration program."
"Processing times for family class spousal applications vary depending on whether the sponsored spouse lives inside or outside of Canada, the number of applications received, the complexity of the case, the applicants response to requests for additional documentation or information, and other factors," Bill Brown, a spokesman for the department, said in an email.