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CBC readers share joys and pains of immigration

Categories: Canada, Community

On Monday, CBC News launched the Who Gets In series, a collection of reports on television, radio and online that take a closer look at Canada's changing immigration system.

We knew that many of those tuning in to the series would have an array of personal experiences, which may or may not have been reflected in our coverage.

Indeed, following our call out for immigration stories, we heard from people who were long settled, newly arrived and still waiting. They flooded our inbox with stories of gratitude and joy, but also of anguish and anger.

The following entries, which have been edited for length and style, are only a fraction of the compelling submissions we received.

We extend our sincerest thanks to everyone who took the time to write.

Click on a face to read that person's story.

Jixiang Hu

Borden, Ont.

 Jixiang enjoys the wonders of Algonquin Park, Ont. . (Submitted by Jixiang Hu) My story began 14 years ago when my parents and I landed in Vancouver Airport in Richmond, B.C. I was 13 years old.

For us, the devil was in the details! 

The very first challenge we faced, was that one of our suitcases had gone missing. Of the three of us, I had the biggest English vocabulary -- but trying to get our luggage to be sent to a home address that had yet to be established, and providing a phone number that hadn't been connected, proved futile.

We had no idea how the bus transfer worked. In China at the time, we paid a fare on each bus. If we needed to take another one, we paid the fare again. We followed the same practice in Canada for the first few days, but it became really expensive -- especially when all three of us would go out together.

It wasn't until a bus driver saw us holding the transfer and refused to let us pay again that we figured out how the transfer worked.

We also didn't know how to make the bus stop! In China, the bus stops at every single stop since there are always people getting on or off. However, this was not the case in Vancouver. We didn't know what the cable hanging near the bus windows was for. I had mistakenly believed that it was only to be pulled in an emergency.

Again, for the first few days, we often missed our stops and had to walk backwards.

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AJ Rollo

 AJ poses with his wife shortly after being sworn in as a Canadian citizen. (Submitted by AJ Rollo)I came to Edmonton from the U.S. -- Florida, to be somewhat more precise -- to be with my Canadian wife.

The paperwork was confusing, the website was largely unhelpful, and the waits were interminable, but I believe I had a fairly standard immigration process. The shocking thing was the experience of actually being an immigrant.

I am white, I speak English as a first language, and I appear, for all intents and purposes, to be an "average Canadian". But applying for work with a temporary SIN, or admitting you are an immigrant, is an instant red card with most employers.

Stranger still, was being approached by anti-immigrant groups on the street (racists, basically), or having some other white average Canadian complain to my wife and I about "all these damn immigrants".

Listening to other immigrants talk about what they go through, as well, the discrimination because of their skin color, or accents, or simply going through the conflicts they tried to leave behind. It's all very surreal, and I feel like I am a part of a secret world that "average Canadians" know nothing about.

It was a long, expensive, and difficult process, and as much as I love Canada, I don't know if I would have put myself through this process if I really knew what it was going to be like. Being an "outsider" is so strange, so arbitrary.

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Dua'a Ramahi

 Dua'a, wearing the red suit, smiles for a family photo that includes her parents, her three brothers, her sister and her nephew. (Submitted by Dua'a Ramahi)Canada is my country. I still remember the first day I arrived here. It was like a dream come true.

My three brothers and I are all settled in Calgary -- but my sister is not. We were lucky to have our parents come to visit twice. My youngest sister also applied for a visa but the embassy refused because she is young, single, and has family ties to Canada. Even though she has a job and is paying mortgage in Jordan, they assumed that she would remain here.

During my parent's last visit, my father passed away. After trying again for a visa, the embassy finally took pity on my sister and allowed her a 25 day visa to attend our father's funeral. As soon as the 25 days were up, she went back home.

Last year, we hoped to have our mother, sister and aunt here for the summer. They applied but, again, the embassy refused my sister's application, as well as my aunt's. This despite the fact that my sister's status had since changed from single to married and that she only stayed the allotted time during her previous visit. My aunt was refused because she is a widow with no children, although she is firmly settled in her own country and is also working.

Why refuse entry to two independent, working women with strong ties to their own country and not allow them to visit their relatives in Canada? I would like to know who exactly is granted visas when my sister and aunt are not qualified.

Will my sister ever be able to see my father's grave again?

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Shiva Nourpanah

 Shiva Nourpanah started The Newcomer's Weblog to keep in touch with loved ones in Iran, but now blogging her immigration experience has become a "way of life." (Submitted by Shiva Nourpanah) Canadians only care about outdoorsy things: trekking across the snow with polar bears, playing that fearsome-looking game on ice, hiking across mud - that sort of thing. Be prepared to die of boredom if you're not into the Great (freezing) Outdoors, especially in a small town like Halifax.

Not! I was thrilled to the core when I found out some of my favourite bands, who happen to be some of the greatest bands in the world, do visit Halifax.

Over the past couple of years I've treated myself to live performances from the best of best: Guns 'n' Roses, Metallica, Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult.

You may be thinking, "Ok, so maybe once a year you get some headline act, but what about the rest of the year?"

Fear not, live music lover! There are plenty of local bands offering an incredible variety of music to soothe even the most savage beast inside you.

Consider this: last Friday night I downed a glass of ale while watching a couple of cute girls singing soulful country songs. The next night I was headbanging to the beats of amazingly talented cover bands paying tribute to Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine. And on Sunday, I was enjoying a delightful program of Persian, Arabic and Turkish dance and music in a stylish ballroom. Next up: a Mozart opera and a free belly dance performance in our local Turkish restaurant.

So, you may feel lonesome, or homesick, or just plain cold and grumpy - but starved of entertainment you will not be. That, I guarantee.

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Aurora Barry

 Aurora, a Canadian, met her husband while living in Australia. The pursuit of post-secondary education drew them back to Canada. (Submitted by Aurora Barry)I am Canadian, my husband is Australian, and we have two young children.

Our journey to Canada was not the smoothest.

We managed to be approved for study visas, but my husband was only able to work part time, and on the university campus. Then, unexpectedly, his sponsors decided not to support him - and he, in turn, struggled to support our family.

I myself was working for minimum wage while my husband rigorously looked for employment and a new visa or permit. The process was confusing, and full of inconsistency. We made numerous phone calls to the Canadian Immigration line. Some representatives were quite rude and some actually contradicted other representatives.

We spent hundreds of dollars trying to apply for several applications. No one had concrete answers for us - this despite that fact that our family includes a Canadian wife and two Canadian children. We survived on $8,000 from May 2010 to January 2011.

After several consultations at the immigration office we decided to reach out to the Australian government for support. They had a permit available to my husband - the working holiday program - and he was approved.

Finally, after two years of confusion that almost exhausted our finances, my husband was able to work. But we suffered a lot.

I do not understand why the Canadian government makes it so difficult for new Canadian families to survive when a simple piece of paper will make the difference between comfort and poverty.

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Shauna Jimenez
Kimberley, B.C.

 Shauna hits the slopes with Ta Hay Tha, who spent most of his childhood in a refugee camp. The preteen has learned how to ski with the help of prosthetics. (Submitted by Shauna Jimenez) Ever since working in a refugee camp on the Thai/Cambodian border three decades ago, I have been encouraging Canadians to become involved in the Private Sponsorship of Refugees program.

Small town folks in rural B.C. have responded with compassion and generosity and sponsored many Cambodian, Burmese, Eritrean, and Karen refugees to their towns, just as folks in Calgary have done.

Our group [East Kootenay Friends of Burma] is not faith-based, rather anyone interested in helping refugees resettle to Canada is encouraged to act on that inherent Canadian kindness. Most of our funding comes from folks with very modest incomes while all settlement work is provided by volunteers. This year we resettled many Karen refugees from Burma.

Whenever we Canadians become complacent, the former refugees always bring the voice that says "of course we can do more, look at all we have!"

Despite what are, in my opinion, cruel and callous changes to Canadian Immigration and Refugee policy, Canadians continue to act on our compassion and welcome refugees. Many refuse to view the world's most vulnerable as illegal aliens or potential terrorists.

Over the past five years alone, our group has resettled 23 Karen refugees, two Eritrean refugees and eight Columbian refugees to the Kootenay area of Interior B.C. Our new community members have survived danger and persecution unimaginable to most Canadians.  

I encourage everyone to keep our country compassionate by helping more people find refuge in Canada.

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Mubotulo Louise Matenda
Hamilton, Ont.

 Mubotulo Louise and her seven children came to Canada as a refugees, but her husband has not been permitted to join them. (Michelle Drew/The Women's Press) In 1998, I was in Beni, Congo. Soldiers came into my house and said they want to see my husband, a pastor, to take him to become a soldier. I told them he was not home. When they came back, they beat me in front of my children and took everything valuable from my house. They said if they come back and find him they will kill our whole family. When they came back my husband was there, but he escaped.

After that, I told my seven kids we had to go and took them without anything: no money, no food. We ended up in a refugee camp in Kampala, Uganda.

By the grace of God, my husband found us. But then, one day, he was kidnapped. When I heard what happened I started to cry and cry. The police couldn't find him. We went to the immigration office and told them what happened, and we were brought to Canada.

A few months after being here, someone told us they saw my husband in Uganda again. He spent three months in the hospital because they beat him. I told the government I can't live here alone without him.

I applied for my husband to come here. He had an interview with the government in Canada, but I found out later he didn't pass. I don't know why.

In my heart I feel like there is something wrong. They quit his file. They told him to appeal. I cried like a baby when I found out. I can't live here another year without my husband. I miss him for everything.

He is not safe in Uganda. When my kids ask when they can see him again, all I can say is "I don't know."

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Nicole Arnt
Pretoria, South Africa

 Nicole, a Canadian living in South Africa to be with her husband, suspects their speedy nuptials and age difference were "alarm bells" for Canada. (Carolien & Ben Photography)Nobody ever tells you that marrying a foreign national is going to be such a hard process; that you may have to be apart or even move away from Canada in order to make it work.

I am a Canadian-born registered nurse specialized in operating room care, and instead of utilizing my specialized skills at home, I'm being indirectly forced to seek work abroad.

I met my future husband while on vacation in Disney World. He had been working at my resort as a cultural representative and Savanna guide. We connected immediately. By the end of the trip, we had decided to get married and believed that after that everything would fall into place.

But after our South African wedding in May, we found out that his request to come with me to Canada had been denied.

I chose to leave my son, my family, my career and house back in Canada move to South Africa with him, but life here has been difficult. I'm not approved to work here, and in addition to financial hardships we face, there are also safety concerns.

I understand that our age difference and the speed at which we got married could raise alarm bells - but why not allow couples to be together while their applications are being processed?

As hopes of returning to Canada fade, we are considering Australia, where they are essentially rolling out the red carpet to nurses.

The fact remains that there are many couples who do experience the old "love at first sight," and those relationships are no less legitimate than any other.

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Ganesh Iyer
Markham, Ont. 

 Ganesh, seen here with his family during Halloween, didn't plan on developing a crush on Canada (Submitted by Ganesh Iyer)I would like to share my story, a positive one, and stories of my friends who all have realized the great Canadian dream.

I originally came to Canada reluctantly and temporarily.

Back in 2003, Canada was a back-up just in case I didn't get a U.S. Green Card. The stories about highly educated people driving taxi cabs and the requirement of Canadian experience seemed like warning messages. The immigration process itself was confusing, with the point systems changing every other year. I thought of Canadian permanent residence as $750 insurance, just in case I had to leave U.S.

When I came to Canada in 2006, I did have a rocky start. I was unable to find a job despite my American master's degree and five years of U.S. work experience and had to persuade my American employer to let my wife and I work remotely from Canada.

Still, I soon found myself developing a huge crush on Canada. We started to make friends and quickly realized that those who had moved from the U.S., the U.K., Europe, Australia, Dubai and Singapore all seemed to do well.

There are positive stories out there of successful immigration, but those of us who made it in Canada don't advertise it, as it might come across as rude especially when so many are struggling and the media has stories of newcomer issues.

Still, it's worth saying that progress, for me, has been swift in Canada, breaking the stereotype of physicians driving taxi cabs. I see successful immigrants in all walks of life, all around me.

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Rhose Harris-Galia

 Rhose has learned a lot in Canada's North, including how to build an igloo and break ground for immigrant nurses (Submitted by Rhose Harris-Galia)I moved to Canada from the Philippines, rather half-heartedly, in 1999. I started out in Edmonton -- but when I got a job interview from a lawyer in a place called 'Baffin,' the wanderlust began to tug at me.

In all honestly, I thought she said Banff. I was excited. I would love to work in the mountains! Two weeks later, I was on a plan to Nunavut. It was a little further than Northern Alberta, and for some strange reason, there were no trees ...

When I saw the barren ground, the snow covered landscape and the rolling hills, all I could think was "Uh-oh. What have I done?"

I was one of the first immigrant nurses in Canada's North. While helping me adapt, my first boss became one of my closest friends, and remains so to this day.

She introduced me to the handful of Filipinos who lived in Iqaluit, numbering less than 10 at the time. She told me stories of life up North, of seeing herds of caribou walking through the streets every summer, or seeing Arctic Hare and Ptarmigan outside the window at odd times.

She also invited me to go out to the land and learn more about the Inuit culture. I learned how to make an igloo, that tea can still scald your tongue even if the ground is frozen, and that dog teams have no brakes. You fall off the sled, you better get up and run.

I have now lived and worked in Iqaluit for over a decade but still represent the Philippines in so many little ways. Still, Canada is not the old country. When one moves to Canada, one must be ready to let go of some of the old, and welcome the new.

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Carollyne Haynes
Qualicum Beach, B.C.

 Carollyne's son Alex was instrumental in keeping his British parents in Canada. (Submitted by Carollyne Haynes)At age 20 I was thrilled to be offered a job in New York City. I wrote to my uncle in South Carolina, expecting him to be just as excited.

Alas, that was not the case. He replied that under no circumstances should I accept the job as I'd starve on that salary. I reluctantly turned the job down.

But my 'travel-genes' were in full gear. What to do, what to do? A friend studying in Ottawa told me how great life was in Canada. What the heck - not quite New York City but close enough.

Within short order my application for Landed Immigrant status was processed and I was boarding the Empress of Canada bound for Montreal.

Over the next few years I married a Brit and had three children. Eventually my husband and I decided to return to England but when we broke the news to our six-year-old son his reaction surprised us.

"I guess if you're taking me I have to go," he said bravely, "but as soon as I'm 16 I'm coming back, because I'm a Canadian."

That night my husband and I talked it over and decided to settle into our Canadian life, content with the occasional visit home to England.

While I may have been a 'reluctant Canadian' I have grown to love this country, its way of being in the world and the people who make it that way. Thank you, Uncle Roy and son Alex, for steering me straight!

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Colin Creado


 Colin, who came to Canada from the United Arab Emirates, counts his appearance on a French dating show among his many adventures in Canada.(Submitted by Colin Creado/Opération Séduction)My immigration to Canada was a bumpy ride at first.

In 2003, I arrived in Nanaimo - an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people - as an international student. It was hard to make friends at first, and I remember eating my lunch in bathroom stalls because I did not want to be seen eating alone.

The more I adapted the better it got. I ended up running in seven elections and even won four of them. I left my school in 2007 as the International Graduate Student of the year.

I started the next phase of my life in Calgary, where my immigration experience began. It really was the land of opportunity! I obtained seven job offers in my first two weeks alone! I made new friends, but it was hard to meet potentials for relationships in Cowtown.

Although the sky was the limit for employment, I wanted a life that was about more than just work. So, after two years, I decided it was time for a change. I packed my life up in boxes and moved to Montreal with my little dog.

As a newly permanent resident, I had no more restrictions - but I felt like I was starting back at square one. It was another culture, and the language was foreign, but I immediately enrolled in French classes.

Three years later, I have bought my first condo, starred on a French reality show about dating and finally settled with a job in a good company.

Montreal is home now, my friends are like family, and my work-life balance allows me to unwind and relax. I truly feel home here.

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