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Why more binational couples are coming to Canada

Why more binational couples are coming to Canada

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Family immigration not an option in most countries
I walked with purpose, my boots hitting the floor in a tempo that echoed my urgency. My mouth was dry and anxiety had sunk into the creases on my face. My family walked behind me, no one daring to talk in case my composure collapsed. I knew where to go and what to do. In my hand — now sweaty — I gripped an unassuming brown envelope that carried my family’s future in it. Our Canadian immigration papers.

It was just after midnight in early March 2007. We were walking down a wide hallway from the plane into Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, towards a glass window with signs directing new immigrants inside. We entered the room and went to the last counter that was open, handed our papers over to a small woman who, in a matter of fact way, stamped our papers, took our photographs and confirmed our permanent resident status before shuffling us toward customs. Like it was nothing.

It didn’t register right away that we were basically home free. Less than an hour later we walked out of the airport. We were tired but exhilarated — the relief was palpable. Only then could I let myself breathe. We hugged: me, my partner Tamara and our two boys. But it was Sebastian, our eldest son, who stirred up the emotion in all of us when he stopped and, referring back to the immigration officer said, “Mum, I like this country. That was the first time we have ever been called a family.”

Walking out of the airport that night, stamped papers in hand, was the last step on a journey that began when I first came out as a lesbian in Lusaka, Zambia in 1993. At 30 years old, I left a seven-year marriage and, with two young sons, embraced my sexual orientation in a country where proven incidents of homosexual conduct could land you in jail for up to 40 years.

It was then that I began my search for a place that my family could call home. It was a journey that, when I met my partner Tamara, turned epic. It took us from Zambia via the United States to Canada.

My partner is American and I am Zambian. We have been together for 12 years and have raised two sons — we are a family in our eyes, in our friends’ eyes, in the eyes of the Canadian government — but not according to the Zambian or United States governments. There, we have no status and no chance of living as a couple or a family.

“We considered a marriage between Noreen and my gay brother but what kind of a message is that to give your children?” says Tam when people ask her about other options. “Trying to teach them tolerance and pride, telling them there is nothing to be ashamed of — but, you need to lie to the social workers, your teachers, just about everyone.”

When it came down to it, living in the US was a short-term answer to a lifelong commitment. My sons and I moved there from Zambia in 2000 knowing that the chances of living there permanently depended heavily on the political climate. After four years of living together in the US, with no recognition as a couple or a family in sight, we applied to immigrate to Canada — something we later learned is a common strategy for binational same-sex couples.

The decision was wrought with emotion. Tam was devastated that she would have to leave the US, her family and her job. In turn, I was angry that, as a queer couple, we had to pay a high price for living in the US — higher taxes because Tam was considered a single person, $20,000 a year in university fees in order to keep my student visa. There was no possibility of socking away any money with a family of four living on one salary and with no idea of what the future held.

In the end, it was the boys’ future and our desire to see them in a welcoming environment that caused us to buckle down and start the lengthy application process. We spent months completing paperwork and pooling family funds. After the application was in, we waited anxiously for two years until we were finally accepted as permanent residents of Canada.

By Aug 11, 2008, we were ready to finally move. We packed the last of our things in a minivan and headed off to Canada, leaving behind our friends and our community in Carrboro, North Carolina. It was one of the hardest things that I have ever done — to leave friends who had become like family to us. Leaving them was, and still is, a harsh reminder of the sacrifices we have made in order to be accepted as a family. Though we’re certainly not the only ones.

According to a 2006 US census report, there are approximately 35,800 binational queer couples in America. Unlike heterosexual couples, who have both social recognition and the legal option to marry, these queer couples will be looking at ways to remain together. American immigration activists have come to recommend that families with one US partner and one international partner move to Canada. Groups like Immigration Equality now offer resources for queer Americans seeking to take the plunge.

For many of these queer couples, leaving their home country is a difficult step but, for Glen Tig and Chitpol Siddihivarn, it was more than that — it was a personal disaster.

Tig and Siddihivarn met in 2000 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Siddihivarn came from Thailand on a visiting scholar’s visa to complete his PhD in oral biology. After two years of living together, they realized they had no reliable way of staying together in the US and applied to immigrate to Canada.

Tig and Siddihivarn became permanent residents of Canada in 2003 but continued living in the US so that Siddihivarn could finish his doctoral work at the University of North Carolina. When Siddihivarn went to the American consulate in Toronto to request a final extension to his student visa, his passport was taken and his visa cancelled.

This catapulted the couple into six months of chaos. Instead of having six months to plan their move — as they first anticipated — they had mere weeks.

The timing of the move and the move itself cost them both emotionally and financially. Tig was undergoing medical procedures in North Carolina to treat an aggressive form of bladder cancer, and his mother was coping with a life-threatening illness. She died while they were in Canada and Siddihivarn was not able to cross the border to pay his respects or to support Tig through her funeral.

“When we were cast out, all hell broke loose on many, many fronts,” says Tig. “We were dealing with the PhD limitation, we were dealing with finances, we were dealing with cancer, death, all of it. Shockwaves of that are still going on.”

The unexpected expenses that came with the move nearly ruined them financially — they sold their house, emptied every bank account, ran up credit card debt, borrowed money from friends and sold land they had hoped to build on in the future. None of these expenses would have been incurred if they were a heterosexual couple.

“It is specifically related to being gay. It is specifically related to not having another option available to us that straight people have available to them,” says Tig.

The US government doesn’t recognize any gay couples as couples (even for those married in one of the six US states where it’s legal). In contrast, Canada recognized gay common-law partnerships in 2000 and same-sex marriage in 2005. Canada also has a (relatively) liberal immigration policy.

For Tig and Siddihivarn, their first months in Toronto were enlightening. As new immigrants, they got driver’s licenses, OHIP cards and social insurance numbers, rented an apartment and opened bank accounts — all openly as a couple, without anyone questioning their relationship.

“We were treated with so much ordinariness, there were no people looking away with their eyes, there was no gulping,” says Tig. “Everybody just assumed that we were a couple.”

Tig and Siddihivarn adjusted to the “ordinariness” of being a gay couple in Canada — they became citizens in 2007 and married in 2008. They have since moved to Vancouver and Siddihivarn is doing his residency at UBC. Tig still travels back to North Carolina where he continues with his private therapy practice. However, in their private lives, they prefer to keep the story of their immigration exodus to themselves.

“Gay people don’t understand it, straight people don’t understand it,” says Tig. “It’s just beyond belief that, for our segment of the population, the liberties, freedoms and acknowledgment we get here are so profoundly significant, and the problems of being forced to leave the country you are born into are so disturbing.”

There are only 19 countries in the world — including Canada — that have queer-friendly immigration laws. South of the border, in a country that professes to be a leader in human rights, the majority of Americans cannot fathom the immigration problems that queer couples have to face.

“I guess I have been shocked at people’s ignorance,” says Susan Jessup, a US citizen looking to make Canada her new home. “I was ignorant too before I was put into this situation. Some [people] get that Canada is this gay haven, but other people don’t understand.”

Susan Jessup and Adi Shimoni have been together for four years. They are looking to move to Canada as a way out of their immigration quagmire. Shimoni, an Israeli, came to the US to complete her Master’s degree in occupational therapy and then transferred her status to a work visa. Although she and Jessup have hired multiple lawyers and sought new jobs in the US, Shimoni’s visa is only valid for six years. She has one year left before she is required to leave the country.

Initially, Shimoni explored the option of getting a green card through her employer, The Children’s Developmental Services Agency (CDSA). The CDSA agreed to sponsor her and contributed US$2500 towards the application. However, one of the requirements for obtaining a green card is that the applicant shows he or she has extraordinary skills and makes the prevailing wage set by the federal government. Shimoni’s income fell just below the stipulated amount and, because of budget cuts, the organization was unwilling to commit to writing a letter stating they would increase Shimoni’s wage by US$2000 annually.

“They [the CDSA] were unwilling to see it as an immigration issue,” says Jessup. “They could not get past the fact that it looked like a salary increase.”

With the unexpected obstacle in their way, they did what many binational queer couples in the US do — looked for other alternatives, chose what sacrifices to make and decided how to move on together.

Fed up with their lives being on hold, and willing to take the jump, Shimoni and Jessup have started their application to immigrate to Canada.

“Our whole lives have been uprooted, and we don’t want to walk through this process again,” says Jessup. “I have never lived in another country, so for me that will be a whole new experience. I am scared — I am 42 years old and I feel that I am going to be starting all over again.”

For Shimoni and Jessup, the immigration application will be relatively straightforward — they are both skilled professionals and meet Canada’s immigration requirements.

But for other gay couples wanting to come to Canada the process may be harder. Since November 2008, applicants have had to meet tough new prerequisites before their application will even be considered.

The immigration process is long, hard and the outcome uncertain. But for so many of us who have gone through it and been accepted, it means a new lease on life — a new beginning.

Despite the nightmare of uprooting our lives, for us, at least it was worth it. It is just over one year since we arrived in Canada. Sebastian is in university and our youngest son is in his last year of high school. Tam kept her job in the US and telecommutes from home when she is not travelling. I know where I am going, what I am doing and I walk towards my future with a purpose. I am happy — we are in a place we call home and on a journey to rebuild and establish ourselves in a new community.
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Comments

Let's pass UAFA!
There are disagreements shown in these comments as to whether or not Canada should be allowing same-sex bi-national couples to immigration into the country. While I firmly DISagree with the hateful remarks made against immigrants, we could end the debate right now as far as it applies to U.S. citizens: Let's pass the Uniting American Families Act!! Then we would not have to consider moving to Canada or another country, as we could sponsor our partners to be with us here. For those who seek to limit immigration to Canada, I suggest you make a sizable donation to Immigration Equality, Out4Immigration, or another group working for passage of UAFA!
Thanks Nor!
As part of a binational couple living in the Netherlands, I want to thank Nor for helping folks to appreciate the ambivalence and complexity of our lives in exile.
Would Capital Xtra trace lying liar Ron's ISP???
It's so easy to spew garbage when one *thinks* they're *anonymous*. I bet a bajillion dollars that "Ron from BC" isn't named Ron, gay OR from BC. Does Capital Xtra feel like tracing the ISP address on all of Ron's posts to get to the bottom of this mystery? Let's out the haters!
Toronto is bankrupt..
Toronto is bankrupt and immigrants are the reason. Too much immigration from inferior societies while encouraging them not to assimilate has been am undeniable disaster. If you loony leftards love refugees so much then pay for all of them on your dime. But of course you won't...spending other people's money is the leftist's specialty.
Toronto is no "crap hole"
ron usually I try not to respond to your diatribes but I feel the need in this case. I live in Toronto and it is one of the greatest cities in the world in many regards. We have the highest rate of new Canadians of any Canadian city and one of the lowest crime rates, much lower than cities out west where there are far fewer new Canadians. The city still creates massive amounts of wealth, the biggest part of its financial problems are from downloading that went on under the Mike Harris regime and which the current McGuinty Libs still haven't changed though they promised to do so, to be fair they have taken back some responsibilities and have let Toronto keep a bit more of the taxes raised here and still promise to take back the worst of the downloaded responsibilities. The settlement of new Canadians has been of no consequence to Toronto's financial problems and even welfare has been a rather small portion of the financial mess. New Canadians bring money with them and have been investing in small businesses all over the city that employ other Toronto citizens. The taxes raised in Toronto subsidize the rest of Ontario and Canada, just not enough of those taxes are allowed to stay in the city. As well Toronto has been reaping the cultural rewards of immigration and has become quite cosmopolitan. You may think that Toronto is "a third world crumbling shit stain of a city" but many thousands of people are still moving here every year and the housing boom is evident where ever you look in this city so regardless of your opinion of Toronto many thousands of others would strongly disagree. How many Canadian cities are growing by such numbers every year? Not that many that's for sure and Toronto hasn't even had an oil boom to draw people in, they come because they love to live here and that has a lot to do with its cosmopolitan multicultural nature and that all are welcome in this city. Toronto is such a tolerant city that even ron would be welcomed here.
Naive? x2
Ron,

You make so little sense that there is absolutely no point in arguing with you. It would be like banging my head against a brick wall.
Naive?
Ron.. make up your mind, would you? Are these so called leeches there to grab all you have got (which clearly ain't brain), or are they just waiting for their own countries to recognize same-sex relationships? I thought you said they were staying only for the social programs, so... why would they flee to go back to the U.S. that offers very limited help? Meanwhile they're working there (learn something about immigration laws of your own country, would you?). And they are also paying the very same taxes that help YOU to take advantage of those social programs. So exactly what is your point? They are to blame because they chose love over their own country? Or is it because they didn't dream of Canada since they were born? I hope you realize how laughable your angry rants are. I bet you're not even gay, much less Canadian and I bet you're simply having fun trying to anger other readers. Idiots, parasites, crap countries, toilet countries? You sound more like a mad Nazi (that's spelled "F O O L"). Cheerio!
How naive can you be??? They are leeches
These country shopping parasites are here to take what we've got. I'm sure not one of them could name the capital of Canada or dreamed of strapping on a pair of ice skates in their life until they Googled countries that recognize gay marriage. You can bet your mother, if and when, the USA recognizes same-sex relations, they will be gone so fast to make your head spin. That's the the real problem with you leftist idiots. You will give away everything in hopes people will like you...in fact, people detest you even more because of your spinelessness. Oh, and if immigrants from crap countries are such a boon to the economy, why is Toronto a third world crumbling shit stain of a city these days? With over 50% of its population born in the toilet countries it should be by your calculations the richest city on earth. Ha ...what a crap hole immigration has turned Toronto into.
Can anyone help us?
I am a U.S. citizen and my partner is Taiwanese. We are currently in the USA, but my partner's work visa will expire in less than two months. We have been trying to find a way to immigrate to Canada for more than 2 years but have had no luck.

The missing ingredient seems to be a job offer. Under NAFTA, I could work in Canada, but I would need a job offer first. My skills are laid out in my online resume at davidsaia.net.

Many Canadian employers don't understand how easy it is to hire a U.S. citizen - it only takes about a week, and under NAFTA you do NOT have to prove that no Canadian could do the job.

Can anyone in Canada please help us?

David Saia - marriage_equality_now@davidsaia.org
A quick response
Ron, in order to be taken seriously it's probably best you think about what you're typing rather than just making broad generalized statements clearly born out of ignorance.

For one, I'd argue that any binational couple coming here has tremendous respect for Canada. It is Canada that allows them to be a family, something like that warrants the upmost respect.

There is no "taking advantage of Canadians" taking place at all. You'd think that on a deeply psychological level those couples here will, if anything, want to give back as much as possible for being allowed the chance to live a normal life.

A parasite takes and takes and gives nothing back. Binationals don't come here, reap the social benefits rewards, and contribute nothing to this society. They pay taxes, they contribute professionally and culturally, and they thank Canada for being ahead of this world's social zeitgeist on what it is to be "gay".

You should be ashamed of yourself. Be glad you were born in Canada, obviously you'd only notice the importance of something (like, say, civil rights) if you were personally lacking some of them. Luckily for you, you live in an enlightened society that sees and treats you as a normal human being.

Oh and, in response to your comment about the article not once mentioning anyone of these binational couples getting a job in Canada, I believe the author of this article would beg to differ. Because last time I checked being a journalist was a job.

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