Immigration rejection a tough slog for couples: lawyer

Barb Sweet
Published on February 22, 2014
Dr. Danielle LeBlanc of St. John’s speaks to her husband, Paul Van-Tay, in Ghana via Skype recently. — File photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

Fighting an immigration case that has been denied can be a harsh and shattering process for couples, says a Winnipeg immigration lawyer who read about a Canadian doctor trying to bring her Ghanian husband to Canada.

“They are clearly fighting an uphill battle,” R. Reis Pagtakhan said Wednesday.

Pagtakhan, who is not involved in the matter, contacted The Telegram after reading about Dr. Danielle LeBlanc and her husband, Paul Van-Tay and wished the couple luck in their case.

Two days before Valentine’s Day, LeBlanc and Van-Tay got a letter from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

The federal department turned down Van-Tay’s application for a permanent resident visa, suggesting he didn’t give the right answers during an interview, but not explaining exactly what went wrong.

“Based on your interview at our office, and a review of the documentation submitted, I am not satisfied your relationship with your sponsor is genuine,” Van-Tay was told in the Feb. 12 letter.

“I am not satisfied you are customarily married to your sponsor. You were advised of the concerns during your interview, but were unable to satisfy me they were unfounded. As a result, for the purpose of the regulations, you are not considered to be a member of the family class.”

LeBlanc, a surgical resident in St. John’s, had not seen Van-Tay for a year and a half — because he was denied a visitor’s visa to Canada — but she visited him in December in Ghana.

But they have been in constant contact through phone, Skype, text and social media since beginning a relationship and then marrying in 2012.

As The Telegram reported in May 2013, the couple was twice been turned down by Citizenship and Immigration Canada for a visitor’s visa.

On the second visitor’s visa application, the couple put together about 80 pages of documents — gathered by LeBlanc in Canada and Van-Tay in Accra, Ghana — and a more detailed application they felt would be no-fail.

According to Pagtakhan, couples like LeBlanc and Van-Tay can expect an even more long-winded process on appeal.

And he said the immigration scrutiny is much higher for marriages in which a spouse is from a country for which Canada requires a visitor’s visa.

Once an appeal is launched, the couple will receive the entire file on their case, and Pagtakhan said it could be a year before a hearing, a process similar to a court of law in which the couple will be cross-examined — the Canadian sponsor usually in person and their spouse by video conference.

There is a chance of a decision on the spot, but it could take months.

He cautioned even if there is success, the file would be subjected to more bureaucracy and months more of waiting, during which officials may request more medical information and another police clearance for the prospective immigrant.

Frustration in such cases is huge for a couple, especially if they haven’t had a chance to see each other often during the process.

“Make no bones about it. You have to prove the relationship is genuine. If you can’t, it’s almost the last shot,” Pagtakhan said.

Taking the case to Federal Court for a judicial review afterwards  — if the appeal fails — has a slim chance of success, he said.

He noted that immigrations officials almost always concede the Canadian is in love with a foreign national, but are cautious of whether a foreign national is genuinely in love.

But rejections don’t always mean the people involved aren’t honest. They could be due to insufficient documentation, problems with the way the marriage ceremony was conducted, miscommunication with officials, interpretation of how questions were answered or just a judgment call.

“We have seen reasons for rejections that sometimes baffle us,” Pagtakhan said.

Some questions could be asked during an interview for permanent residency that not even a long-married Canadian husband would know the answer to, such as a client of Pagtakhan’s who was queried on what brand of makeup his wife wore.

“I don’t know what brand of makeup my wife wears. That doesn’t mean I don’t love her,” Pagtakhan said.

The ordeal is stressful for clients, he said.

“The people that have come in and I have spoken with, they are just beside themselves. They have no idea why they couldn’t prove this thing to the government. They are totally in love,” he said.

While immigration officers are trying to do their job — to expose fake marriages — the nature of the process can be jaded, ensnarling genuine couples.

Pagtakhan advised the only thing a couple can really do before they get married and through the process is to not destroy anything; to document and save photographs and phone bills and to use as much written correspondence — such as email — to prove their relationship.

He said he advises his clients that if they are truthful, they should make it through the process.

“It essentially comes down to this: do they believe you? And if they believe you, they will win,” he said.

Last week, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, asked for comment on LeBlanc’s and Van-Tay’s case said decisions are made by highly trained visa officers in accordance with Canadian immigration law.

“When a CIC officer refuses an application, it is because the applicant does not meet the requirements set out in Canada’s immigration law,” Amanda Lannan said via email.