Montreal

Pandemic travel restrictions leaving the children of temporary residents stranded abroad

Children of temporary residents are being separated from their parents after recent trips outside Canada because COVID-19 travel restrictions consider them "visitors."

Families unaware they needed written permission for kids to re-enter Canada

As a temporary resident in Quebec, Laurence Lacroix, right, doesn't know when her daughter will be allowed to return to Canada because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. (Submitted by Laurence Lacroix)

Laurence Lacroix didn't plan to return from France without her daughter.

The Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean-based restaurateur is one of dozens of temporary residents in Quebec whose children aren't being allowed to re-enter Canada after travelling with their parents outside the country.

Families say they're being separated because of stringent COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Children of temporary residents who weren't born in Canada are considered "visitors," even if they were educated in the country, meaning Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) needs to approve their return.

"How do you explain to a 14-year-old girl that her mother has to leave Saturday … and I can't give her a date for when she can come back," Lacroix said.

Lacroix and her daughter Louhann, 14, left Montreal for France on June 21 to visit Lacroix's father, who is dying of cancer. They hadn't seen him in person since emigrating four years ago.

After their visit with him, they were on their way home and arrived in Germany for a connecting flight to Montreal.

Lacroix says staff from Air Canada stopped Louhann from boarding the plane "because of her visa." She pressed the airline for an explanation but got none.

"They didn't explain anything to us," she said.

On the cusp of residency

Lacroix is just two and a half months shy of receiving permanent residency status but both her work permit and Louhann's visitor visa expire on July 20. She says she's torn between staying with her daughter and complying with visa restrictions.

Stranded in Europe with limited money, the two took an eight-hour bus ride to Paris and then a six-hour train ride to stay at a friend's home temporarily.

"We only have what's on us. The luggage went back to Montreal," Lacroix said. "For me that's one thing, but for a 14-year-old girl, it's a bit complicated."

The visit in France was meant to last only a week, but it was extended after Louhann was turned away at the airport. Now, their negative COVID-19 tests are out of date and will have to be redone if they try again to travel back.

Several families have reached out to Radio-Canada with similar stories.

Aylin Akbulut, her partner and their six-year-old daughter wanted to take advantage of the recently eased quarantine restrictions for travellers who have been fully vaccinated.

As temporary residents waiting for permanent residence, they spent two weeks in Mexico only to discover their daughter would need permission to re-enter Canada.

"We know that the border is closed to tourists, but we're talking about our daughter. She is not going backpacking around Quebec. It's crazy!" said Akbulut.

2-week process

In a statement to Radio-Canada, a spokesperson for IRCC said immediate family members, such as the dependents of temporary residents, may be eligible to return to the country provided they travelled for essential or non-discretionary purposes.

"To be exempt, [children] must also get written permission from the IRCC if they are from a country other than the United States," Sonia Lesage said.

That process can take up to 14 working days.

Without relatives in France to take care of her, Lacroix's daughter will have to stay with family friends until her case is reviewed.

"I know she'll be with friends, but it's not the same. It's not us. It's not her mom or her dad," Lacroix, who plans to fly home solo on Saturday, said.

With files from Matt D'Amours and Radio-Canada's Romain Schué

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