At last, two years after submitting our application for permanent residence in Canada, I was requested to attend an interview in Sydney. My profession as a librarian was awarded more points on the immigration assessment scale than my husband’s career in architecture, thus determining that I would be the applicant. Before allowing myself to feel too smug, I was reminded that this was merely due to the economic circumstances in Canada at that time. Our score on the points scale, while not sufficient to ensure us entry, was enough to warrant an interview in which further points, if any, would be awarded. The responsibility for pleading our case rested with me: a daunting thought.
As we prepared to fly to Sydney from Western Australia, our emotions swung back and forth. Our initial confidence that our earlier years in Canada and our knowledge of the country would ensure us success was closely followed by the fear that being close to retirement age would exclude us.
It was our dream, our determination, to live out our retirement in British Columbia. After many years in the heat, dust and remoteness of Western Australia, we longed for mountains, lakes, cool fresh air and closer proximity to our children and grandchildren. We knew Canada well having met and married in Toronto. Despite moving on to other parts of the world, we had returned from time to time and had travelled from coast to coast. We saw the Maple Leaf flag introduced, went to Expo in Montreal, to hockey in Maple Leaf Gardens, and to Prince Edward Island before there was a bridge. Canada was in our life experiences and our memories so, having decided there was nothing to lose, we had begun the application process, fortunately not knowing the long road ahead.
The frustration of waiting for a response caused a few sleepless nights. Had the application, with enclosed payment, arrived? We had been advised not to inquire unless we had not had a response within 12 months. That is a long time in which to be anxious. Just before the year was up, however, we were notified that our application had been received and the process had begun. Then came another long wait, leading up to the interview.
We arrived in Sydney two days early to get the lay of the land and find the Canadian Immigration Office, which serves the South Pacific region. Our days were filled with sightseeing, enjoying the beaches and historical sites and trying not to contemplate disappointment. This would have been the logical time to come up with a Plan B.
Finally, it was the day and the time. I felt surprisingly calm as I walked through the door, and hoped I could relate on some level to the interviewing officer to give myself the best chance of success. The faces of other applicants gave nothing away as they emerged from their interviews. Just as I began to feel uneasy, my name was called and the folder of documents I had been asked to provide was taken from me. In a small office, a smiling young woman shook my hand firmly and introduced herself as Catherine. The interview began.
At first, there were the expected questions. “Why Canada?” “What will you do there?” As we moved on to education, Catherine was particularly interested in my experiences as a mature university student, a subsequent career in librarianship and my love for the work. As we talked, she entered information on her computer and commented, “That is a wonderful story!” After more typing and conversation, there was suddenly and unexpectedly, the hoped-for magical words: “I'm going to let you go, you know, Canada can do with people like you.” My hands shook. I could hardly speak for the lump in my throat. “Really?” I asked. “Really truly,” Catherine replied and with a few flourishes, she finished typing. “There. It's done.”
It was hard to know what to say, how to thank her. She had been so much more than an officer doing her job. Her interest and encouragement had provided every opportunity for me to tell my story and our hopes for the future. Catherine then asked what I would say to my husband. I knew he would see the result by my face and I predicted that we both would shed a few tears. “Crying is fine,” she said and only then did she reveal that before I entered her office she had wondered how she would tell me that I didn't have enough points. We had talked for so long that the office had closed and several doors had to be unlocked to let me out. As I said goodbye, Catherine gave me a firm warm hug of congratulations and wished us good luck. I met my husband as arranged, happy tears were shed and, over a late lunch, I told him every detail.
Of course, that was not the end of the story. There were medical examinations and more forms to fill in than I could believe would ever be read, but now we knew that our new life in Canada was in sight. At last we could look back on the previous two years of information gathering and form filling with some humour, and free of the frustration and anxiety that had, at times, almost made us give up the whole endeavour.
When one is near retirement age and is asked for every address lived at since age 18, and every place of employment and salary earned, it is a challenge. Thanks to diaries, old address books and friends with long memories, the information was gradually compiled. Next came police clearance from every country in which we had resided. For nomads like us, born in different countries and resident in several others during our working lives, it was time consuming and challenging. Many letters back and forth, fingerprints taken and signatures obtained. I marvel now at our patience and, for the most part, optimism. Nine months passed before we had all the required information.
The medicals provided some humour as well as anxiety. Two doctors in our city were registered to examine prospective immigrants to Canada and the one we chose had a brusque nurse of a certain age. She was overworked, had bad legs and was not prepared to put up with nonsense from anyone, doctor or patients.
After a series of tests and X-rays, Nurse No-Nonsense called me at work one day and without preamble announced, “You have TB and your husband has an enlarged heart.” I did not endear myself to her when I laughed but I knew that both conditions were highly unlikely. The tests were repeated with some additional gruelling ones thrown in and this time the results showed that we would not be a drain on Canada's health services. On our last visit to the doctor, Nurse showed her softer side and wished us a safe journey. I hope she enjoyed the postcard we sent her from B.C.
Seven years have passed since we flew from Australia to Los Angeles for a happy family reunion, then on to Vancouver where an immigration officer photographed us and stamped our passports. “Welcome. You are now officially permanent residents of Canada.” It was a moment to savour.
Life in B.C. has met all our expectations. We have come full circle from the days of our youth, our meeting and marriage in Toronto. The interview with Catherine will always remain crystal clear in my memory as it set the scene for our future. Two years and nine months of preparation and planning was worth every second.
NOVEMBER 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER AND LOWER MAINLAND
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