Nova Scotia·Go Public

Visa denial for Filipina nurse Blesida Calusa 'frustrating and sad'

A young Filipina nurse might get her chance to study in Canada after a CBC exclusive story revealed “an issue” occurred resulting in a refusal.

Canadian benefactors pledged $59,000 for her to study here in wake of Typhoon Haiyan

Canadian benefactors pledged $59,000 for her to study here in wake of Typhoon Haiyan 2:37

A young Filipina nurse might get her chance to study in Canada after a CBC exclusive story revealed "an issue" occurred resulting in a visa refusal.

An earlier version of this story recounted how a retired executive from Halifax, who does charitable work, was upset that his pleas to the government to let Blesida Calusa study in Canada had been ignored.

"There's no accountability. There's nobody to talk to in our government — nobody at all. They will not respond," said John Morehouse, who tried to help Calusa get a student visa.

"It's frustrating and sad. These [Filipinos] are people that are very resilient and trying very hard to better themselves."

In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Morehouse said he can’t understand the government’s handling of the case.

"There's a humanitarian issue. I mean the Philippines have been hit hard," he said.

However, shortly after the story was published, Catherine Bailey, the No. 2 official at the Canadian Embassy in Manila, wrote to Calusa’s immigration consultant expressing her distress at what appeared to be an error.

Bailey said she was "particularly distressed" to learn about the refusal because she had approved a visa in early November as long as Calusa passed a medical check.

"It appears that there is an issue here with another person having entered a refusal without apparently having noticed my decision," Bailey wrote. "Obviously this is a serious matter and I will be following up at my end.  I have reopened the file."

Pleas to minister

Morehouse and his wife Janice Wiscombe had pledged $59,000 to guarantee full financial support for the 28-year-old to come to Canada and study for nine months, then travel back to her home country.

John Morehouse says it's frustrating and sad that Canada won't extend a visa to Filipina nurse Blesida Calusa. (CBC)

"Right now she’s lucky to make $10 a day. She might make $300 a month and that is the income they try to live on," Morehouse said.

Calusa is a registered nurse in the Philippines, but said she wants to upgrade her skills to Canadian standards to get a better job. She has been accepted into a course in nursing at a college in Halifax, starting in January.

“In Canada they are more advanced in technology and they also have other scopes of learning as regards to the health sector that I can apply here in the Philippines or elsewhere,” said Calusa, who has a four-year-old daughter at home.

“It is for her that I do this, and rest assured, I will be going back to the Philippines for her.”

Refused 3 times

Calusa has applied for a visa three times in the last year, and has been denied each time, because visa officers said they didn't believe she would go back to the Philippines when her visa expires.

"She’d be somewhat stupid to stay here [illegally]," Morehouse said. "With an education like that — and try to work under the table? If she gets all these credentials she will go back to the Philippines."

Calusa says she wants to study in Canada to improve her nursing skills and help her family. (CBC)

Morehouse and his wife have known the Calusa family for two decades. They became long-distance foster parents to Calusa's sister when she was a child, then sponsored her to come to Canada as a live-in caregiver for Wiscombe’s ailing mother.

“We care about the family. I want to help them,” Morehouse said.

Morehouse pointed out that if Calusa did return to Canada later on, her skills would help fill an increasingly urgent nursing shortage.

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“It would definitely be a win-win for Nova Scotia and our economy,” Morehouse said.

She's already been approved to take Nova Scotia’s licensed practical nursing exam while she is here. That licence would allow her to apply for a Canadian job in the future.

Her sister, Irenia Calusa, works in Halifax and sends money home to her family.

Irenia Calusa is about to become a Canadian citizen. She said she can’t understand why the government won’t let her sister study here, given her nursing qualifications and support from a Canadian family.

'Good intentions'

“I was just hoping they would have been more considerate considering what happened to the Philippines after that [typhoon] disaster,” Irenia Calusa said. "We have very good intentions in coming here."

The area where the Calusa family lives is far from where the typhoon hit, but she said the whole country is devastated.

Morehouse and his wife, Janice Wiscombe, brought Irenia Calusa to Canada as a caregiver in 2006. (CBC)

“Emotionally, everybody’s affected,” Irenia Calusa said.

Three days before the typhoon, Blesida Calusa was instructed by Citizenship and Immigration Canada to get a medical exam. Morehouse believed that was a good sign that her visa application was being approved.  As it turned out, that exam didn’t matter.

On Nov. 13, six days after the storm hit, a visa officer in Manila sent Calusa an unsigned form letter, saying her latest visa application had been denied. 

“They just say the decision is final and if you want to apply again, please apply with another processing fee,”  Morehouse said.

The officer checked a box on the form letter that said, “You have not satisfied me that you would leave Canada at the end of your stay.” 

“Are they even really reading the details of each visa application that they have in their office?” said Irenia Calusa, who is upset because her sister wasn’t given an interview.

Government promises questioned

Calusa’s rejection letter was dated one day before Immigration Minister Chris Alexander told CBC News that Canada was fast-tracking visa applications for Filipinos affected by the typhoon. 

“We’re looking through our large inventories. We have tens of thousands of applications in process in Manila,” Alexander said.

Morehouse says he would love to see Calusa come to Halifax, so she could spend time with her sister, Irenia, who has been here for years. (CBC)

He also stressed that bringing in Filipinos regardless of whether they were affected by the tragedy remained a top priority.

“It won’t affect our very high targeted levels of immigration from the Philippines. It has been one of the top source countries for immigration to Canada in recent years.”

The day after Alexander said that, Morehouse wrote to him for the third time pleading Calusa’s case. He received no reply.

“Clearly it’s lip service. I mean you’ve got a government that hides behind a wall. You can’t call them. You can’t email them. You can’t write them. It’s sad — it’s really sad,” said Morehouse, who also wrote to the Prime Minister's Office, which passed his letter on to Alexander.

Numerous similar cases

Ottawa immigration lawyer Warren Creates said rejections of qualified, desirable applicants happen far too often in developing countries.

“This is a perfectly egregious case. I’ve seen many of these,” Creates said.

After Typhoon Haiyan, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said the Philippines is one of Canada's top target countries for prospective immigrants. (CBC)

He said some visa officers in countries such as the Philippines aren't carrying out the government’s objectives and seem to be unaccountable for their decisions.

“Who’s going to look after us in our retirement? We need to have and generate and promote and graduate and credential the next demographic in our workforce, and this candidate was perfect for that,” Creates said.

“She would be our best neighbour. Every one of us in Canada would want to have her. Let’s give her the chance to do that."

Citizenship and Immigration Canada sent a statement listing reasons why the application was denied.

It cited that Blesida has applied three times, that it believes Canadian credentials won’t help her job prospects in the Philippines and that there were “a number of inconsistencies and contradictions in her applications.”

Immigration Canada indicated it is not changing its position and said the minister was not available to talk about the case.

"We are once again disappointed," Morehouse said. "If anything, you would think we would open our doors for someone to either visit or further their education in Canada. Money would be spent in Canada, if nothing else."

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