Couple's attempt to return from Peru in limbo despite family exemption announced by PM
Without paperwork for her Peruvian husband, Canadian fears missing final repatriation flight from Lima
For Canadian Elise Craig and her Peruvian husband Joseph Ruiz Cordova, it has become a race against time to come to Canada on the last repatriation flight facilitated by the federal government.
With just days to go before that scheduled flight, the couple stranded in Peru is still pressing for the necessary paperwork to be permitted to board.
International travel restrictions had meant Cordova, who is not a Canadian citizen, would not be allowed to enter the country.
Craig said she was left with "two options that really aren't options": to return to Canada and leave her husband behind, or stay with him in one of the countries most affected by COVID-19.
The couple had fresh hope on June 8, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that foreign nationals who were immediate family members of Canadian citizens would be allowed to enter the country, starting at midnight that same evening.
But Craig said due to bureaucratic bungling it's still unclear if her husband will be allowed to come to Canada.
The last repatriation flight for around 250 Canadians still stranded in Peru is scheduled for Friday, June 19. All flights need special permission from the government of Peru, which closed its international airport in March.
Craig was working for a women's rights defence group with the Canadian NGO CUSO International, partially financed by Global Affairs Canada.
She was not supposed to come back to Canada for at least another year, but her contract was terminated because of the pandemic. Her husband also lost his job with an advertising company.
Without salaries, and confined in a country that is now ranked eighth in the world for the number of cases of coronavirus infections, they were desperate to get on the last flight to Canada, where Craig's family has organized a location for their quarantine.
Cordova submitted an urgent request for a visitor's visa.
On May 27, Immigration Canada replied his trip was deemed to be of "optional or discretionary nature" like "tourism, entertainment or recreation," and denied him entry to Canada.
As the spouse of a Canadian citizen, Cordova believed Trudeau's June 8 announcement would change that, and that he would be allowed to accompany his wife with a visitor visa.
"This seems to me to be great news! We're keeping our fingers crossed that measures will be quickly put in place and that it will bring a change in our file," Craig wrote in an email.
Hope turns to despair
But in the following days, the couple's joy turned to despair once more.
On June 9, Cordova wrote to Immigration Canada asking for a review of his application for a visitor visa, in view of the changes announced by the federal government.
The next day, the Canadian embassy in Peru wrote to Cordova, saying the initial application for a visa had not been turned down and suggested he write again to Immigration Canada asking for a review of his application.
But on June 11, Immigration Canada responded to her husband's visitor visa application, saying it couldn't process his request for an exemption to travel restrictions because he doesn't have a visitor visa.
According to Immigration Canada's reunification rules published on its website, immediate family members no longer have to obtain such an exemption.
"This reply is like a second slap in the face. I don't know what to do anymore," Craig said in an email.
Even the assistance of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, the MP for Craig's Toronto riding, didn't seem to help solve the bureaucratic logjam. Freeland's office sent a letter to Immigration Canada on June 9, stating that it appeared Cordova's visa application could proceed now that immediate family members are authorized to enter Canada.
"Given the scarcity of international flights and the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in South America, we feel that it is imperative that Mr. Ruiz Cordova and his wife, Ms. Craig, have the chance to board the chartered plane for Canada," Freeland's riding office wrote.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino did not directly answer CBC/Radio-Canada's question as to why his department seems unable to process the couple's file in view of the prime minister's announcement.
"Mr. Ruiz Cordova's application for a temporary resident visa is still in process and a decision will be communicated to him in due course. This information has already been shared with Mr. Ruiz Cordova through official channels," a spokesperson for Mendicino said in an email Monday.
"While the exemptions announced last week make it easier for families with the appropriate documentation to reunite, a visitor visa is only issued on the commitment that the visitor intends to return to their home country on or before the expiry of their visa," the statement said.
Cordova said he has already promised to respect the visa requirements and to return to Peru upon its expiry.
Following Trudeau's announcement about the family exemptions on June 8, Mendicino was left to explain the details.
But he may have contributed to some confusion. Responding to reporters' questions, he suggested the exemption for family reunification would only apply to foreign nationals entering Canada from the U.S.
Following the minister's press conference, his office contacted Radio-Canada to explain that Mendicino had misunderstood the questions and that the new rules applied to all foreign nationals, regardless of their country of origin.
Now, with only days to go before the last repatriation flight out of Peru for Canadians still stranded in the country, the young couple still awaits permission to board the plane.