'I just want my family': Woman says innocent paperwork error dashes immigration dreams

A St. John's woman has been trying to bring family members from her home country of India to Newfoundland for the past eight years, but a seemingly innocent mistake during the immigration process has dashed their hopes.

Leena Raju has been trying to bring family members to Newfoundland from her home country of India

St. John's woman says innocent mistake dashes family dreams. 6:56

A St. John's woman has been trying to bring family members to Newfoundland from her home country of India for the past eight years, but a seemingly innocent mistake during the immigration process has dashed their hopes.

Leena Raju moved to St. John's from India 25 years ago. She never married — says she never wanted to — and instead chose a life taking care of other people as a personal care assistant with Eastern Health. 

"No one is here to say 'Goodnight' or 'Good morning,'" Raju told CBC News.

"I just get up and get ready and go to work and come back." 

She lives a quiet life and longs to be with her family members, who live in Ooty, India. Raju speaks with them almost every day over the Internet — her niece, Stella Rani Arpudharaj Chandru, her niece's husband Vincent, their 12-year old daughter, Viancia, and 11-year old son, Joshua. 

Leena Raju speaks with family members in India almost every day over the internet. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Raju says the immigration process has been difficult, time consuming, and expensive, but in the beginning, she didn't mind.

"It is complicated but I don't think about that because I'm very excited that my family will come," she said.

"I don't think about lots of money to spend, lots of time to spend and lots of processing, doing this and that and paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. The main thing, my family will be here."  

But just when she thought they were doing everything right, one wrong stroke of a pen during the application process ruined it all.

Found job for niece in 2009

It started in 2009, when Raju found a job for her niece Stella Rani, as a nanny for a pregnant mother in St. John's. 

That mom-to-be, who was in medical school, started the sponsorship process, but then found out it would take 28 months for approval. By then, her unborn baby would be a toddler. 

So she wrote a letter cancelling the sponsorship. 

Raju assumed that letter also cancelled the work visa application, but it didn't. The application continued through the system, and in 2012, it was denied by an immigration officer in Sri Lanka who doubted Stella Rani could become "economically established" — because, by that time, she was jobless and the sponsorship was cancelled. 

Raju says she didn't know the work visa was denied, because no refusal letter ever arrived — neither in St. John's, nor in India.  

Home-care worker position 

Time passed, and Raju kept searching for a job for Stella Rani in St. John's. In 2014, she found a home-care worker position, got Stella Rani a job offer, and they began the work-visa process again. 

One question on the application form asked whether or not the applicant had ever been refused a work visa.

Stella Rani checked "no", which was the truth as far as they all knew. But that discrepancy was caught and labeled a "misrepresentation."

So much paperwork and so much money and so much time. It's really depressing.- Leena Raju 

In 2015, the family was denied and penalized. The penalty for misrepresentation is to suspend further immigration applications for five years.

"So much paperwork and so much money and so much time. It's really depressing," Raju said. "My family (doesn't) want to leave me here by myself." 

Raju took her case to then-MP Jack Harris. 

Former MP Jack Harris calls the situation involving Leena Raju a "terrible miscarriage of justice ... Extremely harsh, extremely arbitrary, no right of appeal." (Ted Dillon/CBC)

"I think this is a terrible miscarriage of justice," said Harris. "Extremely harsh, extremely arbitrary, no right of appeal."

Harris tried to help Raju and her family. He wrote a letter to the immigration officer in Sri Lanka to explain the mistake. He says he also lobbied the then-immigration minister, Chris Alexander, to no avail.

'This is something that happened inadvertently'

"This is something that happened inadvertently, without ill intention, in good faith, the proper answer to a question, a box you tick off," Harris said.

"Surely that shouldn't decide your fate forever."

I think this is a terrible miscarriage of justice. Extremely harsh, extremely arbitrary, no right of appeal.- former MP Jack Harris

Then the election happened, and both Harris and Alexander lost.

"You would hope that the new minister and the new government would be sympathetic to a case like this and be willing to reopen it and reconsider," said Harris.

Raju did ask her new MP, Nick Whalen, for help as well.

Whalen says he asked the office of the immigration minister to reconsider, but was told too much time has passed and her only recourse would be to start from scratch, reapply, and include a request that the penalty for misrepresentation be reconsidered.

'Please help me to bring my family'

But Raju and her family don't want to go through the process again. They already spent thousands of dollars in fees and travel expenses. 

"In India, it's too hard to get the documents because it's so big a country. We're living on one side, the main office is a different side," said Leena. "We have to take a bus and a train and go and go and go. So my niece spent lots of time to go and get all the government documents."   

Leena Raju hopes the new immigration minister, Ahmed Hussen, will intervene and help her and her family. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Raju feels they have been treated unfairly, almost like criminals. 

She still has hope that the new immigration minister, Ahmed Hussen, will intervene and help her and her family.

"Please help me to bring my family," Raju said. "I need my family. I will look after my family. I am not asking any money or nothing. I just want my family." 

About the Author

Carolyn Stokes

Journalist

Carolyn Stokes is a reporter with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, and frequently cohosts Here & Now.