Manitoba

New Manitoba mother separated from her husband due to immigration processing delays

A Manitoba woman always envisioned her husband being in the delivery room when she gave birth to their first child, but because of delays processing his immigration claims, the Haitian man had to watch it happen over a video call.

Canadian government prioritizing immigration for vulnerable groups, people who work in essential services

Magdalena Wohlgemuth holds her newborn son, Keeran Belleus. She's waiting for her husband to be able to come to Canada so the family can be together, but at this point, she doesn't know how long the wait will be. (Submitted by Magdalena Wohlgemuth)

A Manitoba woman always envisioned her husband being in the delivery room when she gave birth to their first child, but because of delays processing his immigration claim, she had to do it without him last week.

Magdalena Wohlgemuth lived in Haiti with her husband, Gario Belleus, until last July. At that point, she was six months pregnant, and made the difficult decision to return on her own to her family's home in Landmark, Man., where she could get better access to medical care and wait for Belleus's immigration papers to be approved.

"Just hoping every day there would be a miracle — that's really what I was feeling," she said.

However, when Wohlgemuth went into labour, her husband was only present via video calls on her phone in the delivery room.

"It was kind of heartbreaking.… Of course we wanted to be together," Wohlgemuth said, adding she had a very difficult  labour that lasted nearly 36 hours.

Magdalena Wohlgemuth says she's thankful for video calls with her husband, Gario Belleus, as the two navigate the immigration process. (Darin Morash/CBC)

In a video call from Haiti, Belleus told CBC News it was hard to watch his wife go through the birth without him.

"I was so emotional and I was crying all the time," he said. "She was in so much pain and all the time she tried to grab something, like you wish that I was there, just to hold my hand. It was so, so, so hard to see." 

This couple is one of a number waiting for their immigration paperwork to be processed. However, many are in limbo due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada shut down immigration tests and citizenship ceremonies in March and slowed down services related to permanent residence, only gradually re-opening these programs late last month.

Now, the federal department says due to the impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the office can't process applications normally, nor can it provide accurate processing times.

In addition, the office is prioritizing Canadians trying to return home, vulnerable groups such as refugees, and people who perform or support essential services.

That leaves people like the Wohlgemuth-Belleus family in the dark, not knowing when their claim will be processed.

Wohlgemuth and Belleus have been married for three years and welcomed a baby boy just a few days ago. Belleus wasn't present at the birth because his immigration paperwork is on hold. (Submitted by Magdalena Wohlgemuth)

They aren't the only ones. 

Winnipeg immigration lawyer Alastair Clarke says it's been extremely stressful for his clients who are waiting.

"There's such a high level of uncertainty based on the current situation," he said, adding that under normal circumstances, permanent residence paperwork takes about a year to process.

Clarke says clients want to know when they can expect to see family members, and he doesn't have the answers.

"We want to make sure that we give our clients accurate information, and we need to to manage their expectations," he said. 

"But at the same time, we also understand that it's very stressful, and we want to give them hope that they will be reunited as quickly as possible."

The couple were married in 2017. They met while Wohlgemuth was living and volunteering in Haiti. (Submitted by Magdalena Wohlgemuth )

The federal immigration department has said it's committed to family reunification and is working to reduce wait times, Clarke says, but there's no way to know how long it will take to clear the backlog.

Shannon Ker, a spokesperson from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, says the department can't comment on individual cases.

"The pandemic has resulted in unprecedented challenges, and we know this has been a difficult time for families and others who are making their way through the immigration system," she wrote in an email.

Wohlgemuth met Belleus when she was volunteering in Haiti in 2013. They stayed in touch after she returned home, fell in love, and got married in 2017. Before she returned to Manitoba, they had been living in Haiti together three years.

WATCH | Family stays connected through video calls as they wait for immigration to be approved:

Manitoba mother anxiously waiting for husband's immigration approval

1 year ago
1:59
A Manitoba mother to a newborn is "praying for a miracle," hoping her husband, who is Haitian, will be approved to come to Canada. 1:59

Although they've had to spend time apart over the years, the distance with a new baby is more difficult.

"All these little first things that come along, he can't be here… Watching the baby just develop to different stages, you think of him growing up, and then in a couple of weeks maybe he'll start smiling," Wohlgemuth said.

"You're just never sure when your husband will get here. So you're just constantly thinking about [how] he's going to have to miss those moments."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. Find her on Twitter at @r_bergen or email her at rachel.bergen@cbc.ca.

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