Lost mail prevents Venezuelan in Alberta from helping struggling family back home

Melissa Velasquez, a foreign worker living living in Alberta, sent her Venezuelan passport to Ottawa earlier this year to get stamped with an updated work visa. But the passport got lost in the Canada Post system.

A lost passport can take many months and thousands of dollars to replace in Venezuela, a country in turmoil

Melissa Velasquez a Venezuelan national working in Grande Prairie, Alt. says her passport has been lost through Canada Post, and with her home country in turmoil, she's unsure how or when she can get a new one. (Melissa Vasquez/Supplied)

A postal error, a lost passport and a country in crisis.

For Melissa Velasquez of Grand Prairie, Alta., a piece of lost mail has had ripple effects that are likely to cost her thousands of dollars and months of uncertainty.

The 30-year-old chemical engineer sent her Venezuelan passport to Ottawa earlier this year to get stamped with an updated work visa. But the passport never made it back to her home in northern Alberta.

Canada Post says the parcel containing her passport is now lost "due to circumstances beyond your control."

Velasquez had to cancel a trip to Venezuela in early November because of the lost passport.

With her home country struggling through a major socio-economic crisis, she had planned to stuff her suitcases with food, medicine, and daily essentials to give to her family.

"It's hard to find milk, rice, toothpaste, toilet paper," she said.

"People make fun of it, but it's pretty hard when you're over there and you get can't get it. You go to a grocery store and you see just empty shelves," she said.

Even people such as her father — a university professor — make less than $15 per month. With skyrocketing inflation, Velasquez said that's simply "not enough."

'There's nothing'

Velasquez arrived in Alberta in November 2015 with a work visa for her oilfield employer, Schlumberger. With the visa set to expire this year, she applied for a new one in the spring.

After she was approved, Velasquez was required to send her passport to Ottawa to get the document stamped. As directed, she sent the passport via Canada Post, with a self-addressed envelope for its return.

She used the Xpresspost service, but did not pay for the registered mail service, which would have required a signature upon delivery.
Melissa Velasquez used the Xpresspost service to get her passport stamped in Ottawa. (Melissa Velasquez/Supplied)

"When I sent the passport, I told them at Canada Post that I was going to send a passport," she said.

"I'm new to the country, I didn't know I had to pay extra ... It could have been offered by the Canada Post representative where I gave my passport."

In an emailed statement, Canada Post said it takes "delivery of important documents very seriously and we sincerely apologize to the customer that her item was not delivered."

Canada Post added, "If the contents of an item are known, our retail staff may provide customers with mailing options. However, it is ultimately the customer's choice."

According to the tracking information, the item was put into Canada Post's system on Oct. 5 and later delivered to Velasquez's condo complex. But she has not been able to find it.

"I've put notes under doors, they've checked the mail room, they've checked the trash cans of the mail room. And there's nothing," she said.
Melissa Vasquez is a Venezuelan national working in Alberta whose passport was lost through Canada Post. (Melissa Vasquez/Supplied)

Country in turmoil

Velasquez is now trying to figure out her next steps. 

With Venezuela's government in turmoil, obtaining a new passport is not easy.

She knows there will be thousands of dollars in bribes demanded for a new document. And government services are in such a state of disorganization, it could be months to secure a new passport, even if she travels to Venezuela or gets an appointment with the Venezuelan embassy in Vancouver.

Velasquez already lost hundreds of dollars when she had to cancel her trip to Venezuela, and doesn't know when she will get home again.

"Maybe for other countries it's easier to get a replacement, but in my case it's very hard to get a new passport," Velasquez said.

"I'm just hopeful something will work out."