Canadians are largely unaware we are among the most privileged travelers in the world. We can go almost anywhere without a visa. And we take it for granted, we travel without even thinking about whether there might be any restrictions on our travels. We are tourists in a planet just waiting for us to visit: so presumptuous are we, we don’t even think about whether there is an entry requirement. We just go. But if you are from a third world country, such as The Philippines, there are few places you can travel to if you don’t have a visa. Canada is not one of those places.
Think on that for a minute: people from first world countries can go to third world countries without an entry permit but people from third world countries cannot visit first world countries without a visa.
The reason for visas (for perhaps more accurately, no requirement for a visa) is the presumption of worthiness – are you a person the host country can rely upon to respect the laws of the land – and will you go back home. If you are from another first world country these criteria are assumed, subject to final scrutiny by the border security officer at the entry point; if you’re from a third world country (or suspect country) the host country needs more time to assess you and if satisfied will grant you a visa.
Restrictions on travel and immigration are to be expected, hardly an imposition on tourists, but becomes increasingly complicated for visitors with more compelling reasons to travel. Sustaining the relationship between Carmen and me, already buffeted by life’s vicissitudes, doesn’t need the further stress of struggling to secure travel documents.
Applying for a visa for most countries is no small matter: there are forms to be completed, documents to be submitted, interviews to be had. And Canada is right up there with the EU in its bureaucratic predilections. In the ‘before times’, this was daunting enough, but now, post covid, it is a nightmare of on-line forms and long wait times.
Carmen obtained a visitor’s visa to Canada in 2019 March with the help of an immigration consultant, the filling of forms (paper!), compiling original documents and being interviewed (in English) by an Immigration Officer at the Canadian Embassy in Manila. The process was comparatively swift. There are many kinds of visas (student, temporary workers, tourist) and Carmen was granted a V-1, a multiple entry Visitor’s visa; I guess the Immigration officer was convinced that I as Carmen’s sponsor was a serious suitor. The validity period for a V-1 is contiguous with her Philippines Passport and so continued until the expiry of her Passport, 2022 October 04; multiple entry means she can come and go into Canada any number of times, but for terms not longer than six months.
Carmen came to Canada at the end of April 2019 and after six months we returned to The Philippines, October 12, to continue to explore our relationship. While there, I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that as a Canadian, my unrestricted entry was good for only 59 days; after that I had to apply for an ‘Alien Certificate of Registration’, which was mildly disturbing to me, naively believing I had unrestricted liberty. An alien! I felt a bit like ET.
Getting the ACR was not that complicated – there are immigration offices in many cities across the Philippines (conveniently for me, there was one right in Trece Martires) – you just go to the office, bounce between bureaucrats for an hour or two, pay your fee (PhP5000 (Philippine Pesos)) and obtain a piece of paper stamped and certified; go back in two weeks to get your shiny new identity card with imbedded microchip, valid coincident with my Passport expiry date. (The bonus is you get to meet many other aliens there while you wait.) An ACR card is relatively permanent but it still only has a term of 59 days, after which you need to have it renewed: pay a fee of PhP2500, repeat every 59 days thereafter (do you get the feeling this is a money earner for the Republic of The Philippines?) I got my ACR on 2019 December 12, and I got a 59 day extension (PhP2500) February 10.
Carmen and I appeared to be entering a pattern of semi-annual hemispheric transits, snowbirds every six months, 12000 miles and 12 time zones to traverse. Well, I was the snowbird; Carmen had never seen snow. We were scheduled to return to Canada 2020 March 23.
International travel essentially collapsed with covid restrictions on 2020 March 16. So did public services. We decided to wait it out – this pandemic panic couldn’t last that long. By April 10 my 59 day term had reached its limit with no way to extend it; I became, technically, an unauthorized alien in the Philippines. I stayed on until May 14 but finally I returned to Canada, without Carmen – we were uncertain she would be allowed entry in Canada and would have to return to Pilipiñas. I passed through Philippines Immigration but had to pay an exit fee of PhP1440 for my 34 days of delinquency. When I arrived at Vancouver Airport, to an almost empty hall, I told my story to the Canadian Border Services agent; he said, ‘too bad, you should have brought her’.
When covid travel restrictions were finally lifted in February of 2022, I got on my pony and hustled off to Philippines to see Carmen again after a 20-month hiatus. On March 29 I brought her back to Canada, but this meant she had to return to Philippines by September 29. (As it happened our return tickets were for September 9.)
In anticipation of the expiry of her Philippines Passport (and hence her Canadian visa) we visited the Philippines Embassy in Ottawa and applied for a new Passport in April. The new passport arrived in August. In the meantime I investigated whether we could apply for a Canadian visa here in Ottawa. It ought to be possible, and maybe it is, but damned if I could find any information as to where this can be done. Standard procedure is that foreign applicants apply for a visa from the host country embassy in the applicant’s own country; that meant Carmen would have to wait until she returned to The Philippines and apply to the Canadian Embassy in Manilla. I was not encouraged to learn from a high ranking official in IRCC that processing entry visas may now take up to ten months. I guess our hardworking public servants, working from home, are overwhelmed with demand, not to mention the priority given to Afghan and Ukraine applicants.
So as Carmen and I returned to the Philippines September 9, I expected our first priority was to get an appointment with the Canadian Embassy in Manila to apply for a new visa. And wait.
But as it was becoming increasingly apparent, family and life circumstances in the Philippines were beginning to trump visa issues and any plans for Carmen to return to Canada anytime soon. (More on this in the next blog post.) My urgency to get a new visa for Carmen abated.
When I booked our flight tickets for The Philippines with PAL (Philippine Airlines), the ticket agent in Toronto advised me that I was only allowed a 30 day period in the Philippines (where formerly it was 59 days). I booked my return flight for October 9. I could have applied for an extension as I had before but I had already established with Carmen, and myself, that I needed to get back to Ottawa to attend to my own business (my consulting clients, and my CAA obligations, not to mention finalizing my current opus, My Story, Mostly). We spoke increasingly of me becoming just like millions of other Filipinos – a balakbayan – Filipinos living away, earning income to support their families and only returning whenever they could, often after 10 months or more. It was now obvious that I would have to leave The Philippines once again, leaving Carmen behind, just as I had to do in 2020.
It was a teary departure at NINA Terminal 1 last Sunday. I kissed Carmen through our masks and wished the three eldest apos who had accompanied us goodbye. ‘See you soon. Be good for your loli.’ I pushed my bags through the security scanner wondering when ‘soon’ would actually be. Getting a visa for Carmen may be the least of our obstacles.
Postscript: As I was writing this post I thought I would take a picture of my passport to include it in this post. I began to think where I had put it. (That’s my usual way of looking for things, I think where I had last seen it, or thought it might be – this may be learned behaviour from a lifetime of myopia.) I went to my closet to check the inside pocket of the sports jacket I had been wearing. Not there. And after a brief logical search I concluded it wasn’t anywhere I might have put it. In my mind’s eye I thought I could see it on the desk in my Toronto hotel room. I called the hotel: ‘no sir, we have not found it’. I began to resign myself to the likelihood it was lost. I checked Passport Canada’s website for guidance wherein it was indicated a lost or stollen passport was a serious matter and should be reported and canceled as soon as possible. I phoned the 1 (800) number indicated Saturday night and got a message that office hours were Monday to Friday and I should call back Monday morning. Maybe I’ll find my merely misplaced passport by Monday. Otherwise I have to apply for a new passport which will likely take 10 months.
Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata, Canada
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