Hi, my name is Abe and I am this website’s administrator. I’m going to share a story about my experiences helping my same-sex partner immigrate to Canada. Hopefully this will help some of you in your quest to do the same.
I first met Angelo (not his real name) in September of 2004 while chatting on a Yahoo Group about websites. After some chatting we discovered that we were both gay and quickly developed a close bond. After chatting that first day, we decided we wanted to chat more and planned to meet online as often as we could. Angelo was living in Manila, Philippines and I was in Canada and at this time I had no idea how much our lives would change because of this meeting.
It turns out that Angelo had a job which gave him a lot of free time to chat. I would be coming home from work in the evening, turn on my computer and chat software just as Angelo would be arriving at work in Manila, a 14 hours’ time difference. I remember there were many days we chatted up to 8 hours per day. I would crawl into bed exhausted at about 12 midnight or 1 am as Angelo was finishing his day at “work”. Of course there were occasions where he actually had to work, so those days went by without a chat.
The Philippines, especially at that time, had a rather poor internet connection so this also made for times we could not chat. We were using two different chat programs at that time (Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger) and if the signal happened to be strong enough, we would be happy to enjoy some moments of video together.
By the spring of 2005 I realized that I was falling in love with Angelo and he expressed his love for me as well. But what could we do? We were literally a word apart from each other. I didn’t have enough money to just fly around the world, and Angelo was only making the equivalent of $500 CDN each month. Although this was higher than the average wage there, it was still not enough for him to just fly here either.
During our chats I felt I needed to know how real this online relationship was. I mean, sure, you can say I love you on a chat or video, but how well do you really know someone? After 6 months I knew that we needed to meet somehow. This is when out experiences dealing with Immigration Canada really began.
Our first thought was to somehow get Angelo here on an eTA (Electronic Travel Authorization) or visitor visa. Seemed simple enough right? There were some hoops to be jumped through however. I needed to write a letter of invitation to Angelo (sometimes this will need to be notarized) inviting him here. That letter needed to include this following information
information about Angelo:
- complete name,
- date of birth,
- address and telephone number,
- your relationship to the person,
- the purpose of the trip,
- how long the person plans to stay in Canada,
- where the person will stay, and how he or she will pay for things, and
- when the person plans to leave Canada.
I then needed to include this information about myself:
- complete name,
- date of birth,
- address and telephone number in Canada,
- job title,
- whether you are a Canadian citizen or permanent resident,
- a photocopy of a document proving your status in Canada, such as
- a Canadian birth certificate, if you were born in Canada,
- a Canadian citizenship card, if you are a naturalized citizen, or
- a copy of your PR card or your IMM 1000 proof of landing, if you are a permanent resident,
- details of your family, such as names and dates of birth of your spouse and dependents, and
- the total number of people living in your household, including people you sponsored whose sponsorship is still in effect
Once Angelo received this letter, he needed to present it to the Canadian embassy or consulate outside of Canada when he applied for a temporary resident visa.
Angelo and I continued to have almost daily chats, often up to 8 hours each day, while waiting on his visitor’s visa. I don’t remember exactly how long this took, but when the reply came, Angelo’s visitor’s visa was denied. I remember quite clearly how saddened we both were by this as we really wanted to meet each other in person. Angelo had saved enough money to pay for ½ of the airfare. In return I was going to pay the other half and pay for his meals and have him stay with me while he visited.
So, why was he denied? Well, it seems getting a visitor’s visa from the Philippines was not as easy as we thought. Unfortunately, there was a history of Filipinos applying for these visas and simply disappearing once they gained access to Canada. Unless you were able to demonstrate to the embassy or consulate that you had a compelling enough reason to return, you would likely be denied. A compelling reason might be that you had a wife and children there or a business that had monetary value. Angelo had none of that.
It should be noted that when I first met Angelo, he had already begun the process of applying to Canada on his own, as a skilled worker. He had enough points, but was paying a lot of money to a private consultant to help him in this process.
Since Angelo could not obtain the visitor’s visa, I decided to look into taking a trip to the Philippines instead. We had been chatting for over 6 months and I, for one, needed to know that what we had was real. It was a difficult decision as I did not have a lot of money and taking a trip there would cost about $5,000.00 (Airfare, hotels, dining out and other expenses). Angelo was not “out” to his family, so staying with them was not an option. I spend the next couple of months researching the country, my visa requirements etc. The visa was easy enough, however other things concerned me. At that time there was a lot of activity by the jihadist Abu Sayyaf Group, where they were kidnapping foreigners for ransom. While this was mostly in the south they were still active in other areas as well. In fact, they had bombed a bus on a busy Manila highway just prior to my visit there. My other concern was the heat. Manila is often 35 to 40 C, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I was overweight and knew I would suffer in the sweltering heat and humidity. Angelo advised me of a city (Baguio City) that was about a 6-hour bus ride north of Manila. This city was high in the mountains and was typically about 10 to 15 degrees cooler than Manila. So, the plan was I would arrive in Manila, spend a couple of says there and then head north to Baguio where we would spend 2 weeks getting acquainted with each other. During our ongoing chats, we discussed hotels that were available and activities / sight-seeing that was available.
Finally, it was decided. I booked my flight to arrive the first week of June, 2005.
I remember arriving at the Manila Ninoy Aquino airport at about 12 midnight. While landing an announcement came over the PA about a Meningococcemia-like illness that had killed numerous people in Baguio. Oh goody. This trip was off to a good start.
I entered into the airport building which at the time was air-conditioned. I was processed quickly and then pointed to the exit. I will never forget when I existed that building. Stepping into the humid 32C degree heat was like hitting a wall? I walked down the ramp and there was Angelo, waiting for me. It had taken us 9 months to finally meet and there we were, together at last! A 45-minute taxi ride brought us to our hotel in the business area of Manila (Makati) where I was finally able to get some rest. Or so I thought. While the hotel looked great online while sitting at my desk in Canada, the reality was the place was over-run by mice and the walls were paper-thin. People partying next door kept me awake for part of the night, but the next morning I felt quite refreshed despite the jetlag. Since I was not too impressed with our accommodations, my first order of business was to find another hotel. Just down the street was a nice looking place, called City Garden Hotel which we then rented for the next two nights. I remember so clear that I walked out of this hotel the following morning, freshly showered and within minutes I was soaked through due to the high temperatures and high humidity.
I had made the mistake of taking American Travelers checks, thinking that it would be safer that US dollars, however the Travelers Checks were not accepted by most places. Angelo suggested that we could change some of these checks to the local currency (pesos) using a black market trader. I was a bit skeptical, but off we went. I presented some of the checks and they asked to see my passport. They then spoke with Angelo in Tagalog (local Filipino language), took my passport and ran out of the back door. Unknown to me they had arranged with him to take my passport to a nearby business to have it photocopied. Here I was, across the world, in a foreign country staying with someone I hardly knew as I watched my passport disappear. All was good though and my passport was returned and I received some local currency. After that, we went to a back to convert the rest of my traveler’s checks. I remember this being quite the process, spending an hour or two while the bank checked everything through.
HINT: If traveling to the Philippines, convert your money to pesos before arriving.
I was getting excited to get to somewhere a bit cooler as the heat was relentless. There was a time when we were walking in Makati when it began to rain. I thought to myself, “oh good, this should cool things down a bit”. Nope. The rain hitting the streets instantly vaporized creating a hot, humid sauna effect.
The Trip to Baguio
We left our Makati hotel early one morning and made our way to the bus station for our 6-hour trip north to Baguio. I enjoyed the trip thoroughly, with the exception of being served what was later to be suspected as being a cat burger. After about 3 hours of travel, we stopped at a bus station for a short break. I said to Angelo that I needed to use the washrooms, but he suggested this was not safe. I was probably the only white guy around for hundreds of miles and would stick out as a possible easy target. However, since I really needed to go, I had no choice. I walked towards the washrooms and had this group of guys look me over quite closely. I entered the washroom, followed by these surly looking individuals. There were no urinals and the toilet stalls had no doors. The toilets themselves had no seats and looked like they hadn’t been flushed anytime in the last decade. Now, I have a difficulty peeing when I feel that I am being watched. I stood there for a long time, trying to pee while these guys were leaning against the wall, watching me. Finally, I had some relief and decided I couldn’t wait forever so I had to turn around and attempt to leave. Just then Angelo arrived with some of the local constabulary and I was able to leave safely. Apparently he watched these guys follow me into the washroom and went to get help. On my way back to the bus I decided that I was hungry and decided to order something. There was a food stand there advertising burgers, so I ordered one for myself. Back on the bus I opened my burger, took a bite and almost threw everything. One look at the burger I had bitten into showed some sort of meat that I didn’t recognize. Tasted awful as well. Angelo had a good laugh at my expense, explaining that it was probably cat meat.
HINT: Ask what kind of meat you are actually getting when ordering for a street vendor.
The rest of the trip up was uneventful. We passed fields of rice with farmers and their carabao (water buffalo) groves of mango, bananas, papaya and other tropical fruits. Oh, by the way. Should you decide to take a bus, be prepared for a television blaring (in Tagalog) a game show, with all passengers having a good time laughing at whatever was being said.
We arrived in Baguio in the early afternoon and took a taxi to our hotel. Once again, it looked great on my computer back at home in Canada. The front of the hotel was a façade, looking like a pricey, high-end place to stay. Once inside the doors that all changed. It was very dark and kind of spooky. It seemed we were the only inhabitants of the hotel and when dining that night in the hotel’s restaurant, we were again the only ones there. Taking a look outside the back of the building reminded me of movies I’ve seen of stalags in Russia earlier in the 20th century.
That night in the room, we made a few more discoveries about the room. There was no hot water. I called the front desk and was assured the hot water would be fixed by the next morning. The bed had a mattress that was at best about ½ inch thick and the whole bed was maybe 5 feet long. I did not sleep well that night and when trying the shower in the morning we were greeted by icy cold water. You’d think that might be a relief in the heat, but after a bad night’s sleep in an air-conditioned room, a cold shower was the last thing on my mind. I was grumpy and Angelo knew it. I swore to find something else and I did. I guess because of the Meningococcemia-like illness, tourism was way down and the prices on hotel rooms had dropped significantly.
After some phoning around I found a good deal at a 5-star resort. Camp John Hay manor was even cheaper than our previous gulag, and was just gorgeous. We checked in and within a day or two decided to upgrade to a suite, since the pricing was so reasonable.
The two weeks there were filled with good times. We slept late, had leisurely breakfasts and each day had a different activity planned. The weather, while still quite warm (usually around 25 to 30 C, still with high humidity) was tolerable. During the two weeks there we found our favorite restaurants to frequent and enjoys walk around the camp John Hay complex.
Another thing to note is the noise. Every mall you enter, every taxi or bus you ride, has a constant stream of pop music, blaringly loud. Of course to be heard, local Filipinos need to be yelling to be heard above the din. Angelo was a bit of a TV junkie and after our days outing I would always hide the TV remote, asking for a least 30 minutes of silence to recover from the onslaught of noise every time we ventured out.
The people are beautiful. They say that the Philippines is the land of smiles and I can see why it has this name. While 80% of the country lives in abject poverty, many people enjoy a much simpler lifestyle that westerners do and most seem quite content and happy.
Then it was back to Manila and to the City Gardens Hotel for my last couple of days. We toured some of the local spots, like Rizal Park, Intramuros and other places. A bit too much touring though as I ended up visiting the Manila hospital due to a lung infection. Manila is a city of 12 million people and their environmental controls are sadly lacking. The local transit buses are often hand-me-down diesels from Japan, spewing noxious fumes everywhere. It seems every second vehicle is a taxi (usually a white Toyota sedan of some sort). Taxis are cheap and abundant.
Leaving the Philippines
After an amazing 3 weeks it was time to head back home. I was dreading the long trip. By this time, we knew we wanted to be together and we talked over plans on how this was to happen. Prior to going to the Philippines I had done some research and the plan was that I was going to sponsor Angelo to come to Canada. Saying good bye was difficult, but we were both hopeful that we would see each other again soon, once the sponsorship was approved.
The trip home was long – 2 hours to Hong Kong, a 4-hour layover and another 12 hours to Vancouver. Then a bus-ride from the airport to downtown Vancouver where I caught another bus to the ferry. Another 2-hour ferry ride and I was finally home. I remember sitting on my sofa back at home, exhausted but unable to sleep. All I could think was “how fortunate we in Canada are”. We live in an amazing country and have everything we could possibly want within reach.
The Sponsorship Process
Almost immediately after returning back home, we began the application process. Having done some research prior, I knew that I could attempt to sponsor as a conjugal partner. Below is from the Canadian Immigration site:
You can sponsor your same-sex common-law partner, if you have been living together in a conjugal relationship for at least 1 year. Generally, you must show proof of this union, such as joint financial records, property, mail, or purchases.
You can sponsor your same-sex conjugal partner if you have been in a conjugal relationship for at least 1 year and have:
- Evidence that you could not live together because of same-sex discrimination or other reasons (e.g. an immigration barrier, refusal of long-term visas or stays in each other’s country); and
- Evidence that you are not just in a physical relationship but a mutually interdependent relationship (e.g. joint financial records).
There were a lot of forms to be completed by both Angelo and myself. Once we completed the forms, we send our copies to each other to be double and then triple checked. Making sure everything was answered, we sent things off for processing.
We both felt very hopeful and positive that everything had been done to their satisfaction.
TO BE CONTINUED