Arulvalan Lourdunathan represents everything that is wrong with our immigration system.
He has been trying for the past two years to gain permanent residency status for himself, his wife and two school-age children, with no success.
Permanent residency status entitles immigrants to the benefits of all Canadians, except the right to vote, hold public office or work in some high-level security positions.
While Lourdunathan’s wife and children are in India, he is in Carbonear, a foreign worker employed under the Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Nominee Program, instituted by the government to attract immigrants to the local workforce. He is young, just 42, English-speaking, and Canadian-trained with an honours diploma in culinary studies from Toronto’s Humber College.
For the past two years he has worked as a cook at the Stone Jug restaurant. He pays taxes and has passed all security, criminal and medical checks. He has also paid $2,380 in immigration fees for him and his family, but he still has a 14-month wait until he can get that coveted permanent residency for all of them.
It is procedure, according to the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) – but it is procedure which has dragged on far too long.
Still, he is among the lucky. His unfailing generosity and hard work have brought him to the attention of people who can help him, such as Phillip Hurley, Grand Knight, McCarthy Council, Knights of Columbus, Carbonear, who maintains an ongoing dialogue with area MP Ken McDonald concerning Lourdunathan’s situation and arranged what was probably the initial telephone call between them. His boss, Bruce Branan, has also made a trip with Lourdunathan to McDonald’s office.
A few weeks ago, Arul, as he is affectionately known, presented letters to McDonald signed by approximately 320 locals familiar with his circumstances. The letters requested permanent residency for him and his family. The original was written by him with help from Alicia Hopkins, active in St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic parish and circulated in the church a few months ago. McDonald has already spoken once to IRCC Minister Ahmed Hussen about his application and following the presentation of the letters, said he would do so again.
But despite the outpouring of support from the locals, life is tough for Arulvalan Lourdunathan. Each month he sends $350 to $450 to his wife and children and an additional $200 to $250 to his elderly parents, also in India. He attributes his frugal lifestyle with allowing him to save.
“I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t party,” he says. But sending $700 overseas each month is hard on him both financially and emotionally. If his wife were here, she would be a big help to the family budget. At 38, she is a former Montessori teacher and, like her husband, speaks English. She is now a full-time home-maker and mother to their children, a boy, 14 and a girl, 12. She has a small business selling clothing online, but it cannot even moderately support them. Her husband is still the financial mainstay of his family, even as he struggles with the expense of living in Newfoundland and Labrador. She and the children have passed the checks demanded by the Canadian government and now wait for the call that will bring them to Carbonear.
Lourdunathan’s troubles began when he first applied for permanent residency for him and his family in January 2018. IRCC said he substituted his wife’s school-leaving certificate for her baptismal/birth certificate and their application was rejected for that reason. He denies having done so. The controversy over the baptismal/birth certificate was eventually sorted out by an affidavit from a lawyer in India. So, he reapplied this January with the affidavit attached and didn’t even, he said, get an acknowledgment from IRCC that the application was received until Ken McDonald intervened in April. His file was opened immediately. But he still has to wait 14 months for permanent residency for him and the family, down from 19 or 20, a while ago. And that is so terribly unfair.
He was turned down last year over what seems to be a minor error. I don’t understand why IRCC can’t calculate his time in Canada from the application filed in 2018. If it did, his family would soon be on a plane. An email from the department referring specifically to his case states “…The current average processing time for an application for permanent residence under the Provincial Nominee program is 19 months.” But why not show this industrious man who has so much community support some fair play? He has waited long enough and to add further time to that wait is a punishment he does not deserve.
Lourdunathan realizes he is fortunate to have influential friends who will go the extra mile for him. It troubles him what others without his education and knowledge of the immigration system do when they face similar difficulties.
A statement from the Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour (AESL) says the province hopes to attract 1,700 immigrants each year by 2022 – a laudable goal when we have a declining birth rate and an aging population. But there is little point in bringing ambitious, hard-working people here and then ignoring them when they ask to be reunited with their families.
I realize immigration is a federal matter, but the province should put more pressure on Ottawa to cut back on wait times. Lourdunathan says of the governments, both provincial and federal, “They want to bring people, but they’re not supporting the people who are here.” He describes Canada as “wonderful, (with) lots of good policies, but I don’t know how much they are following (them).”
He is right. Forcing him to wait another 14 months over one already resolved mistake is absurd. Lourdunathan and his family will boost the economy of this province. They, and we, should not be stymied by unnecessary government red tape. If we want immigrants, and we do, we must learn to treat them and their families with respect. There has to be mutual give and take, and so far all we seem to do is take.
Arulvalan Lourdunathan entered this country as a student searching for a better life for him and his young family. He is still only halfway there. His journey will be complete when his wife and children join him in Carbonear, where they plan to settle.
An AESL statement says “…Preliminary data for 2018 indicates 1,530 individuals became permanent residents in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Many in Carbonear hope that Lourdunathan and his family will soon join them.
Since The Compass' print deadline for the June 19 edition, Lourdunathan has been informed that IRCC will interview him on June 26 for permanent residency status. The interview will only involve permanent residency for him and not for his family. A decision will be made two weeks later.
Pat Cullen is a journalist who lives in Carbonear. She can be reached at 596-1505 or firstname.lastname@example.org.