A P.E.I. man who has been working for over a year to get his wife back to Canada from Lebanon says he feels their case has fallen through the cracks.
Geoff Osborne’s wife, who is from Lebanon, has been stuck in Beirut for the last 15 months waiting for her permanent residency papers to be processed.
But after P.E.I.’s Citizenship and Immigration office was closed this spring, her file will now be delayed up to another 12 months.
“We’ve tried to be patient, but this whole situation is just not right,” Osborne told The Guardian in an interview.
His wife, Amira Slayman, was in Canada on a temporary visa when they married in Calgary in 2010. She had it extended a few times while they waited for her permanent residency to be approved.
But in March 2011, Slayman’s mother fell ill, forcing her to return to Beirut.
Two months later, when trying to return to Canada, her application for another temporary visa was denied.
“The embassy official on the Beirut side told her they did not believe she would honour her temporary visa because she was married to a Canadian,” Osborne explained.
Since then, she has been stuck in Lebanon, waiting for her permanent visa to be processed.
Meanwhile, Osborne returned to Prince Edward Island and Slayman’s visa file was moved to the Citizenship and Immigration office in Charlottetown.
But last spring, the federal government closed the Charlottetown office, among other smaller offices in the region, leaving it with only one part-time employee who does not work directly with the public.
Slayman’s immigration file was then sent to Halifax.
After finally tracking down where the file landed, Osborne said he was told it would take the better part of a year before officials in the Halifax office could get to it.
“It got moved, it got buried and what they’re telling me is because the office was closed here, it got sent to Halifax and it’s eight to 12 months before it will even be re-opened,” Osborne said.
“That means it will be almost three years in total that I’ve waited before I see my wife. And that’s just not right.”
“I’m feeling lost, I don’t wish it to nobody. He cannot come here, it’s too dangerous. And I’m stuck here. It’s driving me crazy,” - Amira Slayman
Adding stress to the couple’s situation is the volatility in Syria. Many Lebanese are fearful the conflict could spill over the adjacent border. There have already been cross border attacks as recent as last month when Syrian military attacked Lebanese villages it believes are harbouring Syrian rebels.
Speaking to The Guardian via Skype, Slayman wiped tears from her eyes as she spoke about how difficult it has been waiting in bureaucratic limbo for so long.
“I’m feeling lost, I don’t wish it to nobody,” she said.
“He cannot come here, it’s too dangerous. And I’m stuck here. It’s driving me crazy.”
She explained how everyone in Lebanon lives in terror of the violence happening so close to their homes. She loses electricity and water daily, and often loses communication ability with her husband in Canada.
Nonetheless, the couple remains committed to fighting for her return to Canada.
“I’m not asking to be fast-tracked, I’m not asking for special treatment. What I’m asking for is due process,” Osborne said.
“I know our file got buried, but it’s not OK.”
An official with Citizenship and Immigration Canada would not comment on the couple’s case due to confidentiality rules.
But he did stress that CIC does continue to have a presence in the province, despite the office being closed to the public.
“CIC will continue to serve P.E.I. through the provision of regularly-scheduled itinerant services. For years, we have been serving communities without a permanent CIC office in this way,” Bill Brown, a media relations advisor with CIC wrote in an email to The Guardian.