The Eagle and the Beaver Have Landed!   Leave a comment

Welcome to Canada.

With that greeting came instructions to park Donovan and go inside the Canada Border Services Agency office just behind the Pacific Highway checkpoint booths for processing.

Quickly we swapped out paperwork.  Donovan’s bill of sale and Paul’s Certificate of Clear Sail and I-94 went back into the portable file box.  We kept Donovan’s title and export papers with us as a precaution, adding CBSA’s required vehicle importation form.  Out came Paul’s birth certificate, our copy of the Bill of Lading from North American Van Lines plus duplicate copies of our lists of woodworking and stained glass supplies and tools.  Duplicate copies of lists of jewelry and collectible currency and coins, electronics and odds and sods packed into Donovan and the trailer joined them, followed by Destiny and Carter’s adoption contract and vaccination certificate.  A packet of  Poplar Bridge lease agreements plus letters from its management office certifying that we lived together there since 2001 rounded out the bundle of paperwork.  We put our drivers’ licenses in our passports and the passports in front of all the other stuff.  Everything was neatly clipped or stapled.  All of it went into a black nylon tote bag carried into the office with us.

Still, I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing…like the kitchen sink.

Walking toward the entrance, I noticed a few cars undergoing inspection by CBSA personnel.  My heart sank.

If the CBSA agent at our assigned station delighted in seeing us, he didn’t let on.  He greeted us politely, but was otherwise direct.

After forking over passports, we laid out our paperwork in neat stacks across the counter, eating up about 3 linear feet of counter space.

Border Services usually begins questioning by asking arrivals about the importation of firearms.  Today was no different. (CBSA is really picky about firearms and other weaponry.)  In unison we exclaimed, “No!”

They’re also picky about food.  Perishable fresh produce, live plants, meats, fruits, and other foods are forbidden.  Prepackaged and sealed foods purchased in supermarkets are generally fine.  CBSA and Agriculture Canada doesn’t care about canned goods or processed foods off the grocery shelf.  Grandma’s homemade cookies are a gray area.  (I don’t want to know.)

In rapid-fire succession, the agent asked for documentation beginning with NAVL’s Bill of Lading followed by Donovan’s importation paperwork.  He directed Paul to another window to follow-up on vehicle importation matters, leaving me to deal with the agent busily processing the Bill of Lading.

“How long do you plan to stay in Canada?” he asked.

“I plan to apply for permanent resident status under the Family Class from within Canada,”  I responded.

“You haven’t done that yet?  You were supposed to do that before coming here,” he scolded.  “For how long should I approve your entry?”

(Two ways exist to apply for permanent resident status under Canada’s Family Class.  A prospective immigrant and his/her sponsor may initiate the process while living outside of Canada’s borders or from within Canada.  Applications from outside Canada take less time to process, but require the immigrant to remain outside Canada until issued an entry visa to join his/her sponsor.  Completion of the process sometimes requires the immigrant to travel to Detroit, Buffalo, New York or Los Angeles for personal interviews with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) screeners.   Applying from outside Canada guarantees the right of appeal, not granted to applications initiated from within.  Applying from outside Canada is the method preferred by officials.)

“As long as Immigration Canada allows,” I answered.

“You’re not off to a good start,” he warned.  “Do you have a list of electronic items?”

I handed over the list.  Mainly the agent was interested in checking the information related to our computers, stereos and TV, but only briefly.

Bouncing between lists and topics discussed and documentation examined seemed crazy and confusing.  This dude was a multitasking genius the likes of which I’ve never encountered while dealing with ICE.  Frankly, I couldn’t do his job.

“Under what category within the Family Class are you applying?”

“Common law.”

“Have the two of you lived together for at least a year?”

“We have lived together for nearly 10 years,”  I answered.  “I have an envelope here containing copies of previous leases and a letter from the management office covering the years our lease ran month-to-month.”

He took the envelope and reviewed its contents.

“Do you jointly own property?”

“Yes, our vehicle.”

Our of the corner of my eye, I saw Paul returning bearing yet more papers.  This was good.  I needed the moral support.

“Do you have a list of jewelry?”

I passed the agent a copy of the jewelry list.  He didn’t concentrate on it for long.

“Where will you be living in Canada?  Do you have an address?

I gave him our new Canadian address and phone number.

Back to the electronics list.  “Are you bringing in computer equipment?”

I laughed.  “Yes, three laptops, a desktop unit with LCD screen, a second desktop unit with a CPU screen, printer, two scanners and assorted drives and other peripherals.  I’m sure there’s more, but I can’t remember it all.  It’s all on our electronics list.  My husband is the hardware expert.”

“So why should I let you into Canada and for how long?”

Uh oh!

With Paul standing beside me, I drew a deep breath.

“Sir, we owe you an explanation,”  I began quietly.  “We understand Immigration Canada’s preferred protocol for obtaining permanent resident status. We wanted to do it that way, but had no opportunity to do so.  My husband worked in the U.S. on a TN visa sponsored by his employer.  He was laid off from his job without prior notice.  When he lost his job, he lost his legal right to remain in the United States.  We had to leave quickly…too quickly to apply for sponsorship and permanent residency outside Canada.”

The agent didn’t say anything.  He didn’t have to.  His expression said it all.  It was almost apologetic.  From that point forward, his demeanor changed.

Quickly he processed through the remnants of the Bill of Lading and our other assorted lists before picking up my passport.  He opened it to a page and stamped it.  On the stamp was that day’s date.

“This is a visitor’s stamp good for six months.  Be sure to apply for an extension about 6 weeks to a month before it is set to expire.  It’s best that your application and sponsorship papers be filed as early as possible, within 1 or 2 months is preferred.  The sooner you get them in, the better,” he explained.  “Welcome to Canada.  Good luck to you.”  With that, he returned his stack of our papers to Paul, adding, “Pay the import duty at the desk over there and you’re free to go.”

“We’re done?”  I asked incredulously.  “We can’t be!  We didn’t cover our cats’ certification of vaccination and our hobby supplies.”

“Those don’t concern me,” he replied, almost with a smile.  “I don’t need to see them.”

While paying our import duty, staffers encouraged us to stop at the nearby Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) office to initiate Stage 2 of  the vehicle importation process.   (RIV offices handle compliance with recall notices and supervises the mandatory inspection of each imported vehicle to ensure compliance with Canadian safety and emissions standards.)

Once back in Donovan, I turned to Paul.  “That was almost easy,” I remarked, adding, “I almost lost my cookies for that?

We expected a longer, more grueling process.  On one hand, the level of detail put into compiling those lists in hindsight was a waste of time and energy.  On the other hand, as Paul pointed out, we were prepared.  We had everything they wanted to see and everything they could ask to see ready at hand.  Going out of our way to play by CBSA’s rules perhaps saved us hours at Pacific Highway Crossing.  Border and immigration agents assess arrivals on their ability and willingness to follow instructions to the best of their ability and understanding and by their demeanor during the interrogation process.  We did our homework and knew our stuff.

Looking at it that way, it wasn’t time and energy wasted.  It was time and energy well spent.

I apologized to Paul for telling the officer about the layoff.  Paul concluded he surely is not alone amongst the ranks of Canadian TN visa holders kicked out of the U.S. for becoming unexpectedly jobless; CBSA probably sees a lot of them.  What I did was probably beneficial – it put my reason for seeking permanent residency from within Canada into perspective and short-circuited the snark.

As we drove out of Border Services, I laughed at the sight in front of us.  Coming out of the two U.S. checkpoints in Blaine, one enters a wide security zone, a no-man’s land of sorts extending for at least the distance of an American-sized football field.  On the Canadian side, no security zone exists.  Practically the first thing seen coming out of the Pacific Highway checkpoint is a corner pub and restaurant.  Finding a crammed parking lot incapable of accommodating Donovan and the trailer next to what we thought was the RIV building, we gave up and headed for Langley.

It was a great day to arrive in beautiful British Columbia as the sun broke through the clouds and warmed the air.  The Lower Mainland in springtime is a riot of flowers.  As in western Washington State, cherry blossoms, azaleas, some Pacific dogwoods and rhododendrons were already out to play along with a variety of garden flowers.

Once at Langley’s Willowbrook Mall, Paul located a phone from which he called our landlord to set a meeting time to pick up the keys to the house.  While waiting in Donovan, I checked the time, something I forgot about before leaving the CBSA office.  By my watch, it was only 11:30 a.m.  Before meeting the landlord, we headed off for a quick bite at a nearby Red Robin.

After the Shaw Cable technician installed our connections for digital and HD cable and high-speed Internet service the following day, I took liberties in borrowing one of the most famous phrases uttered in the history of space flight by posting the following status to my Facebook account:

The Eagle and the Beaver have landed; estimated time of arrival 11:15 a.m. Monday, April 11, 2011. Whoo hoo!


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