Now or Never

'I love it here': An American family fighting to stay in small town Manitoba

Four years ago, Jon and Karissa Warkentin bought a hunting lodge and moved to the middle of rural Manitoba. But now, their family might be forced to leave their new life behind.
The Warkentin family at their Waterhen, Manitoba hunting lodge. (CBC Radio / Andrew Friesen)

Update: Since this segment first aired in September, 2017, the Warkentin family has been granted permanent residency and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has announced changes to policies that exclude immigrants on medical grounds. 

Four years ago, Jon and Karissa Warkentin did what a lot of people dream of doing. 

They had a nice house in the suburbs of Denver, they had good jobs, and their five kids went to good schools. But the Warkentins felt like they needed a change — something that would let them focus on what was important to them: community and family.

So they bought a hunting lodge and moved to the middle of rural Manitoba

But now, the family might be forced to leave their new life behind.
Jon and Karissa Warkentin talk to Now or Never host Trevor Dineen at their Waterhen, Manitoba hunting lodge. (CBC / Andrew Friesen)

When the Americans applied for permanent residency earlier this year, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada denied the Warkentin's application

"Our little girl Karalynn, who is six years old now, has a condition that is known as global developmental delay," explained Jon Warkentin.

"The folks in Immigration were concerned because of that special need that she was going to be an 'excessive burden' on the taxpayers of Canada." 

When they first arrived, the Warkentins didn't know that Karalynn, then two, had special needs. But during their first year in Manitoba, she had a series of seizures. Doctors were eventually able to diagnose her condition, which means that although she's six, she thinks and reasons at a four-year-old level.
Karalynn loves to jump on the trampoline, play with Lego and greet the customers at her parents' hunting and fishing lodge, the Warkentins say. (Submitted by Karissa Warkentin)

The Warkentins told Now or Never host Trevor Dineen that they understand that the government has a responsibility to protect taxpayers, but argue that their family is a positive addition to the country and the community. 

"We've invested this time and energy and finances into not only this business but this community," said Warkentin. "You build up those friendships and you build up those relationships. We would be leaving so much more than a house here. That's the part that is hard. Because the community has really become like a family to us." 

But last week, after months of waiting, the family received some good news. Their lawyer called, saying that their application for residency was being reconsidered

While there is still no certainty the family will get permanent residency, Jon Warkentin said it has given them hope that they will be able to make a permanent home in Canada.

"We were ecstatic," said Warkentin. "It's a huge, huge, huge step in the right direction for us, for our family." 

A U.S. family of six who have built a business in Canada want to stay here but have been denied permanent residency because of the potential costs of treating the youngest child's health problems. 2:14