So, quick and dirty because I'm exhausted -- in every sense of the word -- and it turns out that I have only 68 hours with my husband for the foreseeable future, and I don't want to spend two seconds of that time on the computer.
So, I went to the Consulate in person with Leo and Jenni. Leo was told to wait downstairs while I went up to find out about our visas. I told a woman at "window #3" about our issues, and she typed my name into her computer. I snuck a look at the screen, which said "concern about accompanying spouse." My heart dropped. She closed out the screen and went back to talk to the visa officer. The visa officer told her we needed Leo's FBI background check. I told her I'd already turned it in. She went back to see the visa officer again, and then asked me to wait; the visa officer would come talk with me.
The man next to me struck up a conversation. He works on water issues on the São Francisco River and waxed sentimental about how open and welcoming Canada is. I mistakenly took it as a good sign.
The announcement system told me to go to "room #5," one of these boxy little wood-paneled booths wherein you converse with consular officials through a pane of glass. The consular official sat down and said, "sorry for the delay."
He explained that he is prepared to issue my visa that very day, but "I have some concerns about your husband." First, he said, Leo "had a little trouble" in 2005 -- the driving without a license issue. They have some sort of equivalency process whereby they try to figure out what the offense would be equal to in Canada. So even though they wait for us to get the FBI report, they're also digging around behind the scenes to see if there was a conviction (which would have shown up on the report) or a court date he missed (there wasn't, or else there would have been a warrant out for him). These would be elements that could contribute to "ineligibility" and a visa denial.
I don't know what they're expecting to find, but the process, he said, takes 3 or 4 months. They started it when we turned in our application in June, he said, and he expects that they'll get a response "by the end of September at the latest" because they're relying on "external agencies" -- i.e. the US. I'm not sure how they can get these documents without Leo signing for them, but there you are.
What I do know is this: Leo paid a $50 fine back in 2005 and was told that was it, he was free to go. Where? Well, obviously nowhere in the developed world.
"Then there's a secondary concern," the officer told me. He said that the amount of time that Leo spent without documents in the US makes them think that he won't leave Canada at the end of our visas or that he will attempt to enter the US via Canada.
He said that they evaluate one's ties to various countries. After 5 years in the US, the officer said, his ties to Brazil are weak, and his ties to the US are strong, "with work, friends, etc..." And my ties, he said, are to the US, which means that Leo will want to "come on vacation" there with me, and after my studies "you will return to the US and what will he do? He'll go with you."
This is such a massive slap in the face. Who in the world would go do a Master's program with the express purpose of smuggling one's husband across the border so he can continue to work like a slave and be treated like a subhuman. Moreover, why would we jeopardize a future immigration process to bring Leo to the US as an LPR for a vacation on the other side of the border? The consequences of getting caught doing something like that would at the very least condemn a waiver application, and would no doubt have much father-reaching fallout in immigration terms. It's ludicrous.
But then, I assumed that the officer would have some knowledge of US immigration issues (and would also therefore understand the driving charge). No such luck. He asked things like "could he apply for a tourist visa?" and "can't he get status as your husband?"
I explained that it's a "lengthy process" and we've consulted a lawyer, but while we wade through all of that, we didn't want to put life on hold, and I didn't want to put my studies on hold.
He also seemed confused as to why Canada or Brazil would interest me over the US, and I had to walk a fine line, since if it looked like I didn't want to go back to my own country, it would raise questions about me, too.
"I mean," he even asked, "aren't there universities you could go to in the United States? Uh... not that we don't want you studying in Canada..."
"UBC has a unique program on water governance," I told him, "there are a few universities in the US that have water-related programs, but this is a perfect fit."
"When did you initiate contact with the university?" he asked, "after you left the US?"
"This time last year," I said, "before I left the US."
Then he asked again about what we'd do after my program, wouldn't I go back to the US?
"I'd hope to stay with the same program at UBC for my PhD," I said, "but I study water governance in Brazil. Why would I go to the US for that? If I couldn't continue in Canada, I would study here, since this is where many of the leading researchers are. I would come back to Brazil and see if I couldn't work with someone like Dr. Abers at the University of Brasília."
He seemed very impressed by that part, and said, "I will make a note of that."
We also touched on the fact that I can get residency in Brazil through Leo. "It doesn't make sense right now with study plans in Canada, but in the future, yes, I can," I said.
I also tried to give him my letter of my recent award from UBC, since it's a hefty sum and shows how much they want me for my scholastic achievement, but he brushed it aside, "I told you," he said, "we've got no concerns about you." I insisted he take it.
I was shocked by all of this. None of this suspicion matches up with what I've heard from other Canadian immigrants, Canadians, or even the lawyers I spoke with about the situation.
I don't want to make it sound like anyone was rude or treated me badly -- they didn't. The officer was unfailingly polite and patient with me. He was perfectly nice in every way.
It's just the discourse that tore me to bits... and the fact that US immigration policies dictate who Canadians let into their own country.
What hit me hardest is just what a fucking idiot I am to have thought that Leo and I would be looked at as a pair.
We may have pledged to one another to stay together through thick and thin, but to the outside world sees us very differently: Leo is undesirable, inadmissible, and ineligible. I am "not a concern;" I am going with tens of thousands of dollars in funding; I am "wanted." I am a total fucking idiot.
When I asked Leo how he felt, and all he could say was "hurt. I feel hurt." It's the constant reminders that he is somehow lesser, somehow lower. I can never take away that hurt. I can never heal it. I am powerless to protect him.
We really believed that if there was a welcoming 3rd nation, it would be Canada. We really thought that we'd find our own little safe corner of the world there, with none of the financial instability of Brazil or the political instability of the United States. I was so sure that it would be a place where Leo could feel like a real person -- not like the US and frankly not like Brazil.
And the thing that took the wind out of my sails: we're at square one. I never needed a visa to travel to Canada on my own. As an American, I can show up at the airport in Canada and be issued my study permit there. All of this time, all of this anxiety, all of this money and effort was for us to go together.
It's not over, but we're facing an uphill battle and we'll be facing it from two different countries and with dwindling funds (a lovely award still isn't enough to support two households, and I won't have access to it for several weeks). Add to all of this that my husband in a very precarious position: as of Sunday, he has nowhere to stay.
Today is really hard. I want to just lie in bed with him and cry and smell his shirt, but we've got so much to do -- so much preparation logistically, financially, and emotionally. There's no time to stop until I'm gone, and then all we will have is stopped time... waiting.