When we decided to move to Canada, I remember the reaction of many friends both when we left the US, and our new friends. “Wow, you guys are so brave! Starting off in a new country and all? I wouldn’t dare do it.”
Let me be clear how it went:
- We decided we wanted to live in Canada
- I applied for a few jobs and had an interview after one month of searching.
- I had an offer and a work permit (facilitated by the company’s immigration lawyer)
- The company sent a moving company to put all of our things in boxes and load the truck and drive it to Canada.
- They gave me money to pay for relocation expenses, incidentals, etc.
- They flew me to Toronto for a weekend to look for an apartment.
- We drove our car and cats to our new apartment
- The truck arrived and movers came a few days later with our things, loading the elevator to bring all of our worldly possessions up to our 36th floor apartment, gently placing them in the rooms we told them to.
- Thanks to paperwork from my company, we were able to get health care immediately – only needing to fill out a couple of forms.
- Our American drivers licenses were accepted as equivalent to Canadian ones and we traded our US licenses for Ontario ones.
- Our poor credit was left behind at the border. We started with a brand new and clean slate.
Pretty easy. No bravery required. I’ve had a more difficult time moving between US states. Nearly every other immigrant in this city has had a harder time than this, many managing this without even speaking English. It’s as if, thanks to accidents of our birth, we get to play all of the game of life on the easiest level.
This awareness is part of why I volunteer to help people who, for any number of reasons, thanks to their own circumstances are playing at a much higher difficulty level than we are.
I ran in to a great example of this this week. Daegan is applying for university next year and so he’s also filling out OSAP (financial aid) paperwork. It looks like he’s actually eligible for grants to save a bit of money which is great – he should almost be able to pay for it entirely himself. The application requests lots of biographical information and expects various attachments to prove things like birth date and immigration status. No problem. We have all of that in a little black folder in our house. Just fill in the forms, print, scan, sign, done.
At the same time as Daegan is working on his OSAP application, I’m also working with a family from Syria. The father would like to take an intensive English as a Second Language program at a nearby university. By all accounts it is really excellent. We’ve put through the application which wasn’t too hard. Then we moved on to the OSAP forms. And here’s where it gets complicated. In our life, everything is in a binder in our home. We understand what they’re looking for (e.g. a birth certificate) and then scan it and we’re done. But what if you have no birth certificates? What if you don’t have a marriage license? Well, for me that might be a hassle but not a huge problem. In fact, before I got my original work permit, I had to get a new birth certificate. I wrote the city clerk where I was born, gave them my date of birth and some money and in a few days a nice new birth certificate came in, notarized and ready to go.
But what if the government were busy dealing with a war instead of simple tasks like printing new birth certificates? What then?
How do you satisfy agencies who expect all of the people working with them to be on the same “Easy” or “Medium” difficulty levels? How do you manage when you find someone whose life circumstances make everything extra difficult? I didn’t even know where to start?
Fortunately, I have some friends at the Together Project, the folks who linked me to this family and some of the other families in our neighbourhood. After some digging around we did come to an answer. It wasn’t the easy answer I’m used to (“Why can’t I just scan the immigration paperwork for the kids that has their birth dates on it instead of a birth certificate?”) but there are ways.
So, for the curious, here is what you do when you haven’t got birth certificates or marriage licenses but you still want to apply for OSAP:
Tomorrow we’ll be heading over to our local Legal Aid clinic. There, we will meet with an attorney who will prepare affadavits (sworn statements) that each child is theirs and were born on their respective birthdays. They will prepare another one that says that they’re married. Everyone will sign these and then we’ll send all of that to OSAP. I suspect there will be pushback. The first person looking at it will likely be someone who is trained to immediately reject things unless there is exactly what is prescribed, but hopefully, in the next few days, it will all be sorted out.
But it really makes me think. How hard must this be for people who don’t have folks willing to try to sort out the paths through the system? This isn’t just about language, but about culture, class,and customs. I know when I was in India, I found many things incomprehensible: even getting my plane ticket and getting past the armed guards and in to the passenger terminal was far from easy. But imagine when so much more of your life depends on it.
In any case, my hope is that if you see that, thanks to your privilege or experience, you’re able to “play life at an easier level” than others, you do what you can to share that experience. It can really make a difference in someone’s life.