'We're shattered': Separated family's immigration application in jeopardy after cuts at embassy in Cuba
Canadian embassy in Cuba no longer processing visas in wake of suspicious illnesses
A Canadian-Cuban family is staring down an immigration deadline with no access to consular services after the husband and son were turned away from an appointment in Havana without warning.
On Thursday, Canada's embassy in Cuba announced another downsize. It will no longer be processing visa applications due to staffing cutbacks after unexplained health incidents among Canadian and U.S. diplomats.
Canadian and U.S. diplomats posted to Havana began complaining of unexplained dizziness, headaches and nausea in the spring of 2017. The cause of the mysterious illnesses has not been determined.
But no one told Carlos Gonzalez Trenzado — who had just arrived in Havana with his 19-year-old son after spending hours hitchhiking and taking a horse and buggy — that the shutdown also affected any appointments needed for immigration application processing.
Trenzado and Canadian Laura Silver got married last year. Over the course of their relationship, she and their eight-year-old would regularly fly from Alberta to Cuba to visit him, as they were unsuccessful in getting him a visitor's visa to Canada. In the fall, they submitted an application for permanent residency under the spousal sponsorship program and hoped that would reunite the couple and their blended family in Canada.
One of the last steps before that file could be processed was a medical evaluation, which had been scheduled for Friday in Havana.
When Trenzado and his son got to the hospital to take their health exams, they were abruptly turned away and told no outstanding appointments related to Canadian immigration or visas would be honoured.
"He was just in tears. He's like 'I don't understand what's going on,'" Silver told CBC News from her home in Calgary.
That was on Day 25 of a 30-day window to take the exams, or potentially face a suspension of the permanent residency application.
'When is daddy coming?'
The family doesn't know when they'll be reunited, and the immigration application could be refused since they have yet to receive an extension on that 30-day time frame.
"We're shattered by this," Silver despaired, adding her younger son, who has special needs, doesn't understand the situation.
"He will ask me 20 times a day: 'When is daddy coming? When is daddy coming?' … It's so hard to hear that, because I want him here, too."
Silver reached out to her local MP and to Immigration, Citizenship and Refugees Canada — where her family's permanent residency claim sits — but neither could provide any clarity or help.
The family has no idea what the next step looks like.
Through their MP, they've requested temporary travel permits to Canada to complete the applications here, as well as an extension on the short window to get the medical examinations.
Silver is concerned for her own family, but for others, as well.
"Imagine it's your elderly mother or your five-year-old son that you want to come and visit. Like, that's just an untenable situation."
Global Affairs said Cubans could apply for a visa at an embassy in a third country or online, but Silver says after all the money devoted to their application from Cuba, there's no money left to send her husband and son to a third country.
Global Affairs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Cutbacks over health concerns
Canada has enjoyed good relations with Cuba for decades, including Canadians being the biggest supporters of their tourism market. However, the suspicious illnesses have Ottawa concerned.
It's unlikely investigations into the incidents will be successful. U.S. officials have accused Cuba of failing to keep diplomats safe, but Cuba has denied involvement and says anti-Castro politicians in Washington have manipulated the matter.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the government is working to provide quality client service to Canadians and people who want to visit Canada.
"Canada and Cuba have a close relationship, and immigration plays an important role in protecting the strong people-to-people ties that unite our two countries," he said in a statement to CBC News.
"However, as a government, we have a responsibility to protect the health and safety of our employees. After an internal review, IRCC has made the determination that closing the office in Havana is the right decision, in light of ongoing health concerns."
Cuban nationals applying for travel documents to Canada can continue to access services online and Canadians and permanent residents can submit documents directly to the embassy.
It's not always possible to have offices in every country for various reasons, including low volumes of applicants, international relations, trade barriers, poor infrastructure or security threats.
Residents in those countries without a Canadian office must travel to another country to provide their biometrics or attend interviews.
Silver said she understands why the Canadian Embassy had to stop processing applications, but the lack of communication has been staggering.
"If you're going to shut down everything in Cuba, at least provide temporary resident visas so that Cuban family members can come up and finish the process."
She's optimistic things will work out, but is furious that so many vulnerable people are left in limbo.
"This is one of the things that's been really upsetting," she said. "Just giving us any kind of a heads-up would have saved us so much money and so much effort.
"I think the IRCC really misjudged this."
With files from Reuters