by Julia Escaño
Canada’s Filipino community is arguably one of the fastest growing Filipino diaspora in the world. When we talk about Canada, it’s usually associated with family and friends who have already migrated there or are currently trying to. But despite having so many connections, acquiring a Canadian visa for Filipinos remain a tough and stringent process– especially those of us who don’t quite “fit the mold”.
In May of 2015, I tried applying for a Canadian Temporary Resident Visa. It was my first time applying for a visa in a Western country, and applying as a solo traveler. Up until then, I only had a multiple entry Japanese visa and stamps to 11 other countries in the region. I hoped this would suffice in showing the kind of lifestyle I led. In spite of these, I had no visas to any OECD countries (US, Schengen, Australian), which held more weight in their eyes.
From the get-go, I knew my chances were slim. I was young, single, had no dependents, no property, and worst, I worked as a freelancer online. That meant I can work anywhere, as long as there’s internet. I was also traveling with my Canadian boyfriend, for the purpose of meeting his family. Essentially, there was nothing on the documents I submitted showing ties to home and strong reasons for coming back.
After two weeks, I got the letter from the Canadian Embassy saying that I did not meet their requirements. My application for a Canadian visa was denied. It said that I failed to establish to the Immigration officer’s satisfaction that I will not overstay. It ended by advising against reapplying until my “situation has changed substantively.” With the number of Filipinos abusing admission, it’s no surprise that more is required from us to prove our integrity. This made the rejection even more frustrating, knowing that I had no intentions to violate their laws.
After a lot of thought and with the help of my boyfriend, I consulted with a Canadian immigration lawyer as to what my options were. The idea of ending a lifestyle I loved for an 8-to-5 office job just to get a tourist visa seemed extreme. I needed advice on how to prove that I was an honest and honorable traveler, even if I didn’t fit the mold of what they considered trustworthy.
With the lawyer’s counsel, I reapplied after two months and was granted a single entry Canadian visa. I visited for 6 weeks, abiding by the limits of the TRV. A few months after my return to the Philippines, I reapplied again and was granted a multiple entry TRV, valid for as long as my passport. With this, I now have the freedom of movement and flexibility to travel whenever I wanted, without having to go through the process again.
Are you planning to apply for a Canadian Visa but aren’t sure if you’ll qualify? Check out the steps I took to ensure that I presented myself in the best light. Though visa approvals and refusals are always a case to case basis, it never hurts to cover all bases.
Request a letter from a Canadian MP
If the person you are visiting is a permanent resident or citizen, they can contact the office of their local Member of Parliament and ask for assistance. The moment he found out about my Canadian visa refusal, my boyfriend immediately emailed his MP asking for advice. He also described at length why he thought the decision was unfair. Honestly, I initially scoffed at him for such an idealistic and seemingly naïve reaction. To my surprise though, he got a response from the office within a day. Not only did they entertain our concerns, they also enumerated the ways they could help out! It was stunning.
The MP’s office suggested that we acquire the detailed notes made by the consul who reviewed my application. Then we should forward it to them for assessment. Once they had all the information they needed, they offered to give me a letter signed by the MP herself. It was essentially a character reference, stating that they find me trustworthy and would vouch for my honesty in abiding by the rules of my visa. So yes, this government office that had nothing to do with me did all this to help, because a constituent asked for it. Also, this is all free of charge.
Acquire you reviewing consul’s notes
You can acquire this through the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website. For 5 CAD , a citizen can get the any information they want through email, a digital file on a CD, or a printout sent via snail mail. It took two weeks to receive the notes, which provided a lot of insight. It showed me how I was perceived by the officer and what he found lacking in my papers.
This crucial guide I built from my second application allowed me to address all the weak points in my documents. For instance, he found it positive that I have extensive travel experience, but he found it a red flag that I was traveling with my boyfriend. Knowing this, I had a clear idea which aspects of my life I needed to expound on, and which I could relax about.
Illustrate why your life is worth coming back to
Unfortunately, in most cases, the sole basis of the merit of one’s life in the Philippines is money reflected in documents. This is why finances and investments are the major factor when being granted or denied a visa. Not only is this unfair, it is also very limiting. We Filipinos especially know how great things can be, money or no.
Thus in my second application, I included in my cover letter a detailed description of my life. I talked about my tight-knit family and how we were all living comfortably in the Philippines; my career and the time it took to build a network as a freelancer; my home and how much I loved it; and my lifestyle as a “digital nomad”, and how much emotional investment and sacrifice I put into making it possible. I then emphasized that none of these things are worth sacrificing, especially to just become an illegal immigrant.
By doing this, I was able to show the officer something that bank documents and ITR’s cannot show: relationships, personal values, and priorities. This showed me as a real person with a happy life here – not just another Filipino trying to leave the country.
Get citizens to vouch for you
Immigration officers put a lot of stock on the word of Canadian citizens, especially if they have good records and are upstanding individuals. The underlying purpose of a letter of invitation isn’t only to assure that you have a place to go, but also to give them information about who will be responsible for you during your stay.
If you can ask for letters from several people, particularly all the ones you will be visiting, it will give the officers a good idea of how to track you. The more open you are about all your plans, the more they will trust that you have nothing to hide. If Canadian citizens can confirm these plans and put their good names on it, then even better.
In my case, I included letters from my boyfriend and his parents. They stated not only their plans for my stay, but also emphasized how they fully intended to take responsibility for me and watch over me while I was in Canada. Not only did this show the immigration officer that there were Canadians expecting me, but also that they’d be keeping an eye on me. According to the lawyer, this is something they find very reassuring.
All told I submitted a mountain of documents. While some weren’t necessary, they painted a more complete picture of me and why I deserved a Canadian tourist visa.