Hello, my name is Natasha, and I’m a person who plans everything, but nothing goes according to my plan because of very different circumstances (and then I suffer and get depressed). I always wanted to move from Russia. I had plenty of ideas, thoughts, and sometimes opportunities to do that, but it never really happened until this time.
Immigration and relocation is not an easy process, especially during a pandemic. I am sure that many of those who relocated have 1001 stories about how they moved, but ours is just very weird and unusual. I don’t even know where to start because I can’t share one part of this story (although it deserves special attention), so I’ll start somewhere in the middle but will capture the background.
Back in April 2019, I started planning a relocation to Amsterdam with the company I worked in (a huge and pretty popular tech company). From that time, I lived in the “waiting mode” (I decided not to buy an apartment, didn’t rent a new apartment, and so on). Although the relocation paperwork process has not yet been launched, there have already been some agreements. In the fall of 2019, my husband and I even went to Amsterdam to check it out once again, talk to my uncle, who has been living there for more than 20 years, reviewed everything related to health insurance and what’s not. And then a lot of things happened that did not depend on me, and I never went to Amsterdam. In fact, as I wrote at the beginning, I have been living in this “waiting mode” almost my whole life. I was always almost moving somewhere, but things happened in the last moments, and I didn’t move. I was very tired of living in this feeling, I really wanted to move, and I had the opportunity to go to Canada with my husband’s (D.) work. And now the story begins!
We managed to get our visas right before COVID happened and a few weeks before they started to close all the borders. So we got stuck in Russia with valid work visas. In general, even then, although it caused my emotional disbalance and regular tears, it gave me the hope that while we were waiting, something might change, and we could still move to Amsterdam. While the borders were closed, D. decided to change his last name. He wanted to do it for a long time; he had his reasons.
Of course, before even starting to apply for a new last name, we consulted with the immigration lawyers who handled the entire moving process. They said that he could go ahead and change his last name; there should be no issues since The USA and Canada usually allow people to enter the country with a valid visa even if it has an old last name. The main thing is that it is still the same person. While the process of changing the last name was in progress, Canada opened its borders and allowed it to enter the country for those who have work visas. When D. finally received all the new documents, he wrote an email to the lawyers to inform them that we were ready to fly. The first thing that surprised me was that the lawyers thought we had been in Canada for a long time already and that he was changing the last name inside the country. Well, fine, in general, they told us again that everything was ok, but if we were too worried, we could write an email to the visa office to find out if they could re-issue the visa into a new passport. Unfortunately, the Visa Office said they would not do it, and if we want to get a new visa, we need to re-apply. It took us a couple of weeks to get a visa before Covid happened, and now the process can take up to six months, so the lawyers advised us to travel with the current documents because, as they said in advance, there should be no issues at the border. The only ones who might have questions were the airline company, so the lawyers prepared a document that explained the situation to prevent any problems.
So, let’s skip everything that I felt when I quit (it was terribly difficult and took me an endless number of sleepless nights), goodbyes, accepting the fact that we were not moving to Europe, but to another continent (although I dreamed about it very much, but the older I got, the more I wanted to go to Europe. Also I had a lot of friends and relatives there, and would be close to my parents).
Perhaps the scariest part before the trip was not to get Covid, because, in addition to the fact that the Covid itself was already very bad, it would also postpone the trip once again (we have been in the “waiting stage” for a year already). Okay, I will drop this part of the story again, although I must admit that my nervous system could not stand it all, and I had to start taking tranquilizers to live through it all. I calmed myself down; I hoped that we would move soon, arrive, and finally, I could just relax and come to my senses after all the hell that I have gone through this year.
On December 1, the moving company has packaged all of our belongings. They prepared two containers: one would travel by air (it would take two weeks to arrive in Canada), another one would travel by sea (it would take two months to arrive). There were two suitcases left for us with some necessary things that we would take on board. It is also worth mentioning that on December 1, we discovered that Canada requires additional confirmation for a person who travels as a family (me), which I didn’t have, of course. The lawyers assured us that since we received our visas before Covid, that rule didn’t concern me since I would be traveling using a work visa with an open work permit (and this is very important!). Well, sure, although at that moment, I just wanted to fall into a medical coma before I land on the other continent. But, oh well.
Point 1 - St.Petersburg, Pulkovo
We arrived at Pulkovo, showed our documents, and of course, as we expected, there were problems with the last name. The issue was not related to the visa itself; the system did not allow to print the boarding pass. In 20 minutes and with the help of the “main” computer, they printed the tickets. They asked us whether we would be allowed to enter Canada with a different last name, we showed a letter from our lawyer, and they let us go. The border control also had no questions. They only asked me for a reason for my trip. I said that it was for work, and when asked where I worked, I said that I work in Toronto, and it worked:) I have an open work permit, I don’t have to have a job to enter the country, but it would be too complicated for Russian board control officers.
Point 2 - Istanbul
We had a 9-hour layover in Istanbul. My ex-colleagues told me about the hotel right at the airport, so we could get some sleep. After getting enough sleep, we went to get ready to “fight” with the local control services. Because Canada does not let everyone in, the control at the gate was pretty serious. We showed all the documents, but of course, there were questions about the last name change. The person who checked our documents took pictures of them and sent them to someone in What’s app. He said that he sent it to the Canadian Immigration Services. We were not sure though it was legal to take a picture of documents, including a job offer with the salary, and send them to someone unknown in What’s app. They asked me if I was traveling as a spouse; I said “no” because I had a work visa. But again, oh well, just let us on board! The plane was departing at 3:45 pm; at 3:40 pm, we still did not know whether they would let us on board. In the end, that man called the Canadian Immigration Service, who asked if D. was the same person or not. After confirmed it, they told him to let us on board immediately. Exactly at 3:45 pm, we got on the plane, the doors closed right behind us.
Finally, we relaxed for a bit; the most exhausting part was behind us. We only worried about one thing - what if the Border Control Officer asks me for supporting documents. Eleven hours of flight in N-95 masks (plus the time of the first flight and the transfer), a swollen nose, and we finally landed in Toronto.
Point 3 - Toronto
We landed in Toronto around 7 pm. The first officer looked at our documents and said that everything was ok, we could go-ahead to get our work permits. And then something happened that no one expected at all. We provided the Officer with our documents and explained the situation with the last name change. He listened, it looked like everything was clear. He just wanted to make sure that the job offer was still valid (after all, the job offer was almost a year old, and he had to make sure that the company was still waiting for D.). We showed him a confirmation, and he asked us to wait for a while. An hour and a half later, he returned to us saying that he reviewed our documents, but he couldn’t issue a work permit because he didn’t want to issue it with a new last name because all the documents have the previous last name. And he didn’t want to issue the work permit with an old last name because D. had a new last name. Of course, he couldn’t issue me a work permit because I’m a dependent. So he emailed the visa office and asked them what to do next. He told us to go to the apartments and stay on quarantine for 14 days (as planned) while he would be waiting for a reply from a visa office. He also took our passports and asked us to come back to the airport after the quarantine would be over, when he would tell us if they could re-issue a new work permit here in Canada or ask us to go back to Russia to re-apply for a new visa from scratch. Well, that sounded horrible! We called the lawyer, and he was also shocked.
So we quarantined for 14 days, we didn’t know our status here in Canada. We wouldn’t even order many groceries since we didn’t know if we would stay here or not. It was insane and mindblowing. I felt horrible; every day, I woke up with the thought: “Is this the last day in Canada? I haven’t even seen the city ”.
On December 17, the quarantine was finally over, but there were still no news. The lawyer, as he said, did everything he could (but nothing happened). Just in case we need to go back to Russia, we decided to go and see Niagara right after the quarantine because we did not know if they would leave us here.
On December 21, we went back to the airport. Our Officer was not there, and another Officer told us that our case was still in progress and that we should wait for another two weeks and come back on January 11 (which is three weeks!)
So, we continue to live in this weird status, unable to work, open bank accounts, and rent an apartment. Our belongings cannot be sent here to Canada because The Russian customs service needs a photo of the stamp in the passport (and we do not have passports). In general, it isn’t easy to relax in this situation.
P.S. According to the lawyers' plan, the Officer should have issued a work permit with an old last name by default, D. could start working here, and in the meantime, he would update the Work Permit.