Manitoba

Americans denied permanent residency because of daughter's special needs

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.

Family here since 2013, invested $600K in business, but denied status because of 6-year-old's health needs

The Warkentin family is fighting to stay in Canada after they were denied permanent residency by immigration officials because of six-year-old Karalynn's health. (Submitted by Karissa Warkentin)

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.

The Warkentin family came to Canada from Colorado in 2013 to operate an outfitting business in Waterhen, 275 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg. Their work permits to run their hunting and fishing lodge will expire in November.

When they came to Canada, Jon and Karissa Warkentin didn't know that their daughter Karalynn, then two, had special needs. She was diagnosed in 2014 with epilepsy and global developmental delay.

Their letter of rejection from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), which arrived in April, said Karalynn's health condition might cause "excessive demand" on health or social services in Canada.

"It's hard because we have one person in our family who has a disability out of all six of us. It makes us feel like we're second class. Canada doesn't want you. You feel put down," said Jon Warkentin.

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)

Karalynn was deemed inadmissible to Canada on health grounds stemming from her global developmental delay and ADHD, the letter said. As a result, all family members were deemed inadmissible to Canada.

"We were mystified, because she doesn't require daily nursing care," said Karissa Warkentin. "She doesn't go to speech therapy, she doesn't go to occupational therapy, she doesn't require physical therapy. She's not in the hospital because she has chronic health conditions."

Karalynn loves to jump on the trampoline, play with Lego and watch the movie Frozen. She's been seizure-free for two years, does not take any medications, and a psychologist's report submitted to IRCC suggested only the possibility that she had ADHD, Warkentin said.

She behaves at the cognitive level of a three- or four-year-old and needs to be supervised, her mom said.

"Global developmental delay is a very broad, sort of not really well-understood diagnosis," she said.

"We think this policy is outdated and unfair, and not just for us, not just for our family, but for other families, too. It's basing a human being's worth in dollars and cents."

'Excessive demand' on health service

Annual health care spending for the average Canadian is $6,655, federal officials say, and that's the price used to determine whether a newcomer will place "excessive demand" on health services.

"Its role is to prevent individuals with a severe medical condition from coming to Canada," said Kenneth Zaifman, an immigration lawyer.

"I know that government is sometimes run like a business, and it has to be, and that's why they're doing that, but we were never given the exact figures," said Warkentin, who would have liked to see a breakdown of how projected costs for her daughter would exceed $6,655.

Under their work permits, Jon, Karissa, Karalynn and her siblings Shataya, 18, Grace, 17, and Gabe, 14, were granted Manitoba health cards along with social insurance numbers. They did not have to purchase any private insurance except for when they travelled outside of Canada. 

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

Jon Warkentin said it's going to be tough for them to leave, particularly given that the children are all enrolled in school. 

"Emotionally, it would be hard to leave our friends, and it would be hard for the kids to leave their friends and their school and all that they know here."

The federal official handling the Warkentins' file had asked them to explain how Karalynn would not be a burden on the health care system, and to submit relevant documentation, before the final decision was reached. 

The family sent a notarized letter saying they would handle all of their daughter's health care costs going forward.

They also sent testimonials from school and community officials on their contributions, and information about how block funding from Frontier School Division covers in-classroom support to all students who need it, regardless of whether Karalynn is there.

On Wednesday, IRCC sent an emailed statement to CBC News stating that with no additional information sent, the "decision to refuse the PR [permanent resident] application was maintained." 

"Such decisions are not arrived at lightly," the agency said in the email. "However, IRCC must maintain a balance between welcoming new members into Canadian society while also protecting our publicly funded health and social services."

Looking ahead

The Warkentins entered the residency application process through the provincial nominee program.

Now they're looking at selling their business, which will mean a financial loss, and leaving a community they've come to love.

They're willing to cover any of Karalynn's costs to stay.

"Long term, we would love to set up a disability savings account if there needs to be a long-term plan into her adulthood, if she's unable to live on her own, if the gap widens in her delay, or nothing really changes. But we can't do that until we're residents of Canada," said Karissa Warkentin.

Jon Warkentin said there's more value in keeping them in Canada than sending them away because of Karalynn's needs. They've invested nearly $600,000 in their growing business and have paid "in excess of $20,000" to government in taxes and fees, he said.

The Warkentins have hired a lawyer who is appealing the decision at the federal level. 

Karissa Warkentin believes it will all work out, one way or another.

"I'm one of the blessed few that has the opportunity to go back to the United States of America and rebuild a future there. I know there are other people that are in this situation that don't have that luxury," she said.

With files from Danelle Cloutier