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Oh Canada!
by John Burbidge
former co-coordinator, Immigration Equality - Seattle

© 1997, John Burbidge


As US immigration laws become more restrictive, same-sex binational couples are struggling to find ways to stay together. Unless the foreign partner has the rare good fortune of finding a sponsoring employer or enough cash to start a business, he or she usually faces two options — remain illegally in the United States or break up the relationship and leave.

However, in the last couple of years, a third option has appeared and a growing number of couples are taking it up have both parties move to Canada. Since 1992, Canada has been one of seven countries — Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden are the others — which provide some level of recognition of same-sex couples for immigration purposes. Unlike the other six, Canada offers a discretionary possibility: a person applies to immigrate and requests consideration of his/her relationship with a same-sex partner (either a Canadian citizen or landed immigrant) under “humanitarian and compassionate grounds.”

While this usually happens when the applicant’s partner is a Canadian citizen, recently binational couples have been immigrating to Canada when neither party is Canadian. Here are some stories about just such couples.

—————— Gary & Gio

In March 1993, Gary was a graduate student in Madison, Wisconsin in a Ph.D. program in geography. Giovani (“Gio”) was a visiting scientist at the university from Naples, Italy, spending a year studying and training in the United States, before returning to pursue his career as a plant geneticist.

In their own words, Gary and Gio “fell in love almost immediately.” They moved in together in the summer of 1993 and spent all the time they could together in Madison. Too soon, they faced the reality that Gio had to return to Italy and finish his dissertation. Gio’s departure was something they hadn’t really focused on — knowing they couldn’t prevent it — but when it was upon them, it turned out to be a traumatic experience.

Gary recalls, “We knew we wanted to stay together but the future was very uncertain. Although we were from different countries and different cultures, the most extraordinary thing about our relationship was how much we were alike. In fact, we never really thought about the fact we were from different countries since there was nothing foreign to us about our love.”

After Gio left, both men felt they had to try to find a way to bring Gio back so they could live together in the United States. They gave serious consideration to living in Italy, but concluded that living as a gay couple in the United States would be easier. Like most couples, Gio and Gary knew they faced limited options. Gary could not sponsor Gio and they would in all likelihood have to find employment in the United States to bring him here. They briefly entertained the idea of immigrating to a third country, such as Canada, Australia or somewhere in Europe.

At Christmas 1993, Gary traveled to Italy for a month. This confirmed the commitment they shared to be together, despite the months of separation. Their love for each other grew stronger the following summer, which Gary spent in Italy with Gio. In 1994, Gary contacted the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task (LGIRTF) [now known as Immigration Equality] in New York. He called his member of Congress, a federal judge and other politicians to see if anyone had any suggestions or assistance. During two years of separation, they made numerous trips back and forth between Italy and the United States, wrote hundreds of letters, and made innumerable telephone calls. Gio considered getting a second graduate degree in the United States. Each year Gio applied to the “Green Card Lottery,” but was never lucky.

Finally, in the summer of 1995, Gary read an article in the LGIRTF newsletter about a US-French couple who had given up trying to find a way to stay in the United States and were applying to immigrate to Canada [see following story]. The American intended to apply first, and then after being approved, would sponsor his partner on “humanitarian and compassionate grounds.” Gary and Gio began to seriously consider doing the same. Gary began to research Canadian immigration law and found a tremendous amount of useful information on the Internet.

After returning to Italy for a brief visit in January 1996, Gary learned that Canada was considering an overhaul of its immigration policies aimed at reducing the numbers of immigrants. After consulting with an immigration lawyer in Canada, they decided to proceed without further delay.

They contacted Rob Hughes in Vancouver, a lawyer involved with the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Immigration Task Force (LEGIT). Hughes had represented LEGIT founders Christine Morrisey and Bridget Coll in their landmark 1992 suit against the Canadian government alleging discrimination in immigration. The Canadian government ordered that the Bridget Coll be given landed immigrant status in 1993, rather than face the prospect of losing in court.

In 1993 and 1994, Hughes and LEGIT won more concessions from the government leading to the issuance of a telex in June 1994 explicitly instructing all Program Managers at Canadian Visa Offices worldwide to use humanitarian and compassionate grounds to enable the immigration of same-sex partners. Dozen of couples have since been united under these grounds.

“We knew it wasn’t necessary to go through a lawyer,” says Gary today. “But after two and a half years of separation, we wanted to do everything we could to be successful. Canada was the first real possibility we had to be together.”

After consulting with Hughes, Gary and Gio filed two independent but linked applications. Each applicant would be separately evaluated on a point scale, which favors language ability (English or French), multiple university degrees, and employment potential.

Both Gary and Gio scored high on the point scale, where a successful applicant must attain seventy points. Gary, a climatologist who deals in geographic information systems, computer mapping, and environmental consulting and Gio, a plant geneticist, were both strong candidates for immigration as individual applicants.

By linking their applications, Gary and Gio were hoping that if only one of them had been successful, he could sponsor the other on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. It was not necessary to link the applications to provide the possibility for sponsorship, but by clearly stating they were a couple, Gary and Gio were speeding the process of humanitarian and compassionate consideration if it became necessary.

On Hughes’ advice, Gary and Gio filed their applications through the Canadian Embassy in South Africa, because the Visa Manager who had originally drafted the 1994 telex on humanitarian and compassionate grounds was based in Pretoria. The hope was that this office would view a linked same-sex couple’s application in the best possible light.

Four months after they submitted their applications, Gary and Gio were provisionally approved for immigration to Canada. The interview has been provisionally waived, leaving only the physical examination and a search of their criminal records standing between them and Canada.

Gary and Gio are elated to be at the end of a long struggle to be together. They face great uncertainty about their future careers and living in a new country. Still, despite their joy, they are disappointed they are being forced to move to Canada because laws in both Italy and the United States do not allow for the immigration of a same-sex partner.

“Although we are very excited at the possibility of finally being together, we are disgusted by the fact we must both leave our countries, families and friends, and face an uncertain future in a country that neither of us knows.”

—————— Marty & Stephane

In May 1995, Marty Lingg wrote a letter to LGIRTF in which he described his exasperation with US immigration law and its bureaucracy. As much as it pained him, he and his partner, Frenchman Stephane Alberola, had come to the conclusion they would have to abandon their dream of living together in the United States and move to another country in which neither of them had ever resided, but one which would permit them to be together.

Marty met Stephane in Waikiki, Hawaii in November 1992. Both were vacationing there - Marty, 33, from his job at Bank of America in Chicago and Stephane, 24, from his work at EuroDisney in France. For ten days Marty and Stephane found themselves in a whirlwind romance.

Inevitably, the vacations ended and it came time to return home. Having fallen in love, Marty and Stephane felt they could not bear to be apart, so Stephane extended his trip and spent six weeks with Marty in Chicago. Then, in December 1992, Marty and Stephane moved to Hawaii and established a home there together. Marty began to work for Bank of America in Honolulu and Stephane started a business selling Hawaii-made souvenirs. In April 1994, the bank transferred Marty to San Francisco and they both moved there.

Stephane had made it through the maze of immigration laws and regulations, first entering the United States as a visitor and then changing to a visa that allowed him to remain to run his business. Despite careful attention to his legal status, on his first trip home to France in April 1994, Stephane encountered trouble re-entering the United States in Dallas, which would ultimately serve to foreshadow what was to come.

In August 1994, Stephane learned that his mother was gravely ill. He immediately traveled to France to be with her, preparing to return to the United States on his E-2 visa which he had extended shortly before he left the country. Unfortunately, due to an error in communication with the INS office, Marty and Stephane were given the wrong advice in connection with the extension of the visa. When Stephane returned from his visit with his mother, immigration officers at Detroit airport would not permit him to re-enter the country. He was rudely questioned, threatened, and told he would have to return to France. Finally, after hours of argument, he was paroled into the United States pending an exclusion hearing. Stephane was forced to surrender his passport and was photographed and fingerprinted before he was released from custody.

After returning to San Francisco, Stephane consulted a lawyer and had his exclusion hearing transferred to that city from Detroit. He also sought to have his hearing expedited so he could clear up the problems and free himself for future travel.

This was not to be the case, however. Unfortunately for Stephane, his exclusion hearing was not scheduled quickly and he was forced to remain in limbo, waiting for an opportunity to present his case. He dared not travel outside the country for fear he would not be permitted to re-enter. On July 15, 1995, while Stephane was awaiting a hearing on his exclusion, his mother passed away in France.

In February 1995, Marty and Stephane decided they would look for another way to be able to live together. After some research, Marty applied to immigrate to Canada in July 1995. In December 1995, Marty was approved to become a “landed immigrant” or permanent resident of Canada. According to Canadian law, he had until September 1996, a year from the date of his physical examination, to “land.” In February 1996, Marty flew to Vancouver and presented his immigrant visa to the Canadian authorities. He asked that he be processed to become a landed immigrant. He was quickly processed, went through customs, and minutes later emerged from the airport as a landed immigrant of Canada. Despite his excitement, Marty maintained an ambivalence about moving to Canada. He regretted being forced to leave his own country because of his own government’s discriminatory laws.

In March 1996, Marty and Stephane packed up their home in San Francisco and said good-bye to friends. Marty had found an apartment in Vancouver’s gay and trendy West End Stanley Park neighborhood. Marty flew back to Vancouver and Stephane returned to France to apply for a French passport. (His passport, originally confiscated by the US immigration officers at Detroit airport, had never been returned to him.) Before leaving, Stephane and his lawyer reached an agreement with the government lawyer canceling his exclusion hearing. In April, Stephane flew from France to Canada, settled in his new home in Vancouver, and prepared to apply to immigrate to Canada.

After applying in August 1996, Stephane received his first response to the application ten days later, in the form of a letter telling him that the Vancouver office would handle his file. One more week passed, and Stephane received an appointment letter requesting his attendance at an interview on September 30. After their experience with the notoriously slow and seemingly irrational American immigration system, Marty and Stephane were amazed how quickly the Canadians responded.

Marty and Stephane arrived at the interview at the appointed time and place together. Since Marty had sponsored Stephane on “humanitarian and compassionate grounds,” the interviewer interviewed them together and reviewed voluminous evidence of their relationship. They brought photo albums and letters and other documentation. The interview lasted only an hour and in Marty and Stephane’s own words, “It went great. It was incredible.” The immigration officer approved Stephane after remarking that she regretted he had been so poorly treated by US immigration authorities. She seemed glad to be able to bring peace to their lives and expressed her view it was terrible that Marty and Stephane had been subjected to such unfair treatment in the US.

After bidding them farewell and wishing them good luck, she told Marty and Stephane that she was “glad to help people like them” and that Stephane’s work permit would follow by mail. That afternoon at about 3:30 pm, Marty and Stephane received a phone call from the visa officer telling them that Stephane’s work permit was ready and he could come to pick it up right away. On December 16, 1996, after the last background checks and medical tests were performed, Stephane became a landed immigrant of Canada.

Marty and Stephane spent their first Christmas together after a four-year ordeal by traveling to Mexico on vacation. “It felt very good to finally be able to leave and return home knowing you would not face any problems,” said Stephane. Marty has started his own computer consulting company and Stephane is pursuing a career in computer animation.

Looking back on their experience, Marty and Stephane were thankful for LGIRTF being there for them with information and support in 1995 and 1996, when they were dealing with the immigration service. LGIRTF supplied a lengthy letter detailing the discrimination faced by couples like Marty and Stephane which they submitted as an exhibit in Stephane’s exclusion proceeding. This letter ultimately became part of Stephane’s application for immigration to Canada and was read by the visa officer who approved his application.

—————— Bruce & Simon

Bruce and Simon had tried every way they knew to achieve their goal of living together in the United States. After countless disappointments and denials, they stumbled upon the idea of moving to Canada. Like many other binational couples in which neither partner is a Canadian citizen, Bruce and Simon found happiness at the end of their bumpy road.

In 1992, after working as an executive for Mobil Oil for 15 years, Bruce began to travel frequently to Asia to re-engineer Mobil’s operations in the Asia-Pacific region. On his first trip, he traveled to Taipei where he met Simon, the man who would change his life.

Simon was a fitness instructor at the Hyatt hotel in Taipei. When he met Bruce, he was sure they had more in common than mere chemistry and wanted to pursue the relationship, despite the great difficulties he faced living as a gay man in Taiwan. Bruce wanted to do the same. Between his visits to Taipei, Bruce kept in touch through fax, letters, and phone calls. After six months, they both realized they wanted to find a way to be together on a more permanent and consistent basis.

First, Simon applied for a visitor’s visa at the US consul in Taipei but was rejected because he was a young, unmarried man. Bruce used his contacts at the office of his senator and other parties in the United States and Taiwan in a desperate bid to reverse the denial, but in vain.

Simon persisted in his efforts and was rejected eight times. Bruce continued to visit more than twenty times in two years, routing all his Asian business travel through Taipei. In 1993, Bruce and Simon even took a trip to China for two weeks with Bruce’s mother.

Finally, after exhausting themselves in futile attempts to obtain permission for Simon to come the US, Bruce and Simon visited Canadian consular officials in Taipei. Unlike the Americans, the Canadians were cordial and helpful. In a short time, Simon was granted a student visa to attend university in Toronto and Bruce and Simon were thrilled to have narrowed the distance between them.

Now they were only a short hour flight apart. But still, Simon could not enter the United States to visit Bruce. The commuting relationship, while a vast improvement over their separation, began to take a toll on them both. In December 1994, Bruce decided to resign from his position at Mobil and to start life again in Toronto. In cutting his ties with Mobil, he gave up his management career and forfeited a lucrative severance package which was being given to other executives who were being cut in downsizing.

He never looked back. In December 1994, Bruce and Simon consulted with a Toronto immigration lawyer who helped them prepare and file a “Humanitarian and compassionate” (“H & C”) grounds application to immigrate to Canada. In their application, Bruce was rated on a point scale and found that he had more than the 70 points required to qualify as an immigrant to Canada. Simon was to be considered on his own merits and on the basis of his relationship to Bruce as same-sex partners under the “H & C” provisions.

In August 1995, Bruce was notified that his application was approved by Canadian immigration authorities and he was eligible to become a “landed immigrant” or permanent resident of Canada. Bruce and Simon established a management consulting business, which took off right from the start. They purchased a condominium in both their names to provide further evidence that Simon had strong ties to Canada when he would later apply for a visa to visit the United States.

Bruce “landed” while Simon continued to remain in Canada as a student waiting a decision on his status. Finally, his attorney learned that the Buffalo office was simply not processing Simon’s application. Their attorney had the file transferred to Detroit after learning that the Buffalo case worker who had been assigned to the file and was known to be sympathetic to same-sex couples no longer worked for Immigration Canada.

Finally, in April 1996, Simon was summoned for an interview with the Canadian consular office in Detroit. Simon was granted permission to enter the US for only eight hours to fulfill the purpose of his visit: to be interviewed by the Canadian authorities. Ironically, Simon had tried so hard to get into the US and was now being permitted only to seek to secure his permanent status in Canada!

In Detroit, Simon was interviewed by a surprisingly hostile, anti-Asian, and homophobic female Canadian consular official. The officer declined to examine the stack of materials attached to Simon’s application evidencing his relationship with Bruce. Instead, she asked Simon about his educational and employment background and reviewed his “points.” In rejecting his application, she simply told him that he failed to demonstrate that he and Bruce had a bona fide relationship. Simon protested, saying there was a great deal of evidence submitted in the file which she had not even reviewed. The officer was unmoved and stood firm in her decision. Devastated, Simon and Bruce returned to Toronto.

En route home, they contacted their lawyer and told him what had happened. Bruce and Simon had known going in to the interview that if rejected, Simon’s only recourse would be to sue the Canadian government. Before they arrived home in Toronto they instructed their lawyer to begin this process. The lawyer contacted the Detroit consular officials, described the course of events to a supervisor, and managed to have Simon’s case reviewed. Bruce and Simon were minutes from arriving home when they learned that the Canadian consular officials had reversed their decision and granted Simon’s application to immigrate. The couple broke down in tears, nearly wrecking the car as the news came to them on their cellular phone.

Simon and Bruce have lived free of their immigration nightmares for over a year in their adopted hometown of Toronto. When they later applied successfully for a US visitor visa for Simon, it was granted, another achievement in their long term goals. Slowly, they have met other gay couples and found their way around in a large, multi-cultural, and vibrant community.

Although they experienced many disappointments and made many sacrifices to be together, Bruce and Simon say they would do it all over again if they had to.


© 1997, John Burbidge


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