Indian wife of Squamish man caught in immigration mess
Chief Staff Writer
For the second time in six months, Canada's immigration bureaucracy is causing heartache in Squamish's Indo-Canadian community.
In February of this year, it nearly kept the wife of a local man killed in a car crash from entering the country for his funeral.
For Lakhvir Singh Sekhon, it's kept him a continent away from his wife for nearly three years.
The soft-spoken native of India met with Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland and The Chief on Wednesday (July 7) to tell his story of constant failed attempts to navigate the immigration system. Nine of his supporters attended the meeting to back Sekhon.
Sekhon, 32 moved to Squamish in 2000. "My brother brought me here because he settled here a long time," he said.
He returned to India in April 2001 to marry his wife, Gurpreet, then came back to Canada and started the immigration process to bring her to his new home.
The tale begins three months after Sekhon's wedding. On July 27, 2001 the new husband started his efforts to bring his wife, Gurpreet, to Canada.
Sekhon's application to bring his wife to Canada was put through a pilot project that was supposed to speed up the process for deciding if immigrants are accepted to between six and nine months. The process includes criminal record checks, health reports and immigration permits.
In his view, the pilot project failed. The local taxi driver and his wife provided all the information Canadian and Indian officials asked for. Despite his best efforts to do things right, Sekhon and his wife as still separated by two continents and an ocean.
"They asked her three times for a criminal record check," Sekhon said with a look of disappointment in his eyes.
When things started to go sideways, Sekhon decided to fly to India to see if he could accomplish anything there. His six-week trip allowed him to see his wife but it didn't help complete the immigration initiative.
The most frustrating part for Sekhon is the lack of answers from immigration officials. Sekhon and his supporters have written many letters and spoken with many federal officials. They ask why it is taking so long to get Gurpreet's visa to enter Canada.
With every letter and every discussion the response is the same - nobody knows why it is taking so long to either issue the visa or reject the application.
"This is the second time in six months in Squamish that good people trying to do the right thing are having trouble," said Sutherland, referring to the attempts to bring Sukhdeep Dhillon to Squamish for the funeral of her husband, who died in a car accident in January. Karmjit Dhillon was killed with five of his coworkers as they returned from night shift jobs in Whistler.
"People in charge shuffle you back and forth between offices," said Sutherland. "We're not getting good treatment from Ottawa."
Sekhon's requests for help from MP John Reynolds and other elected officials have been accepted but the politicians who tried to help all said they did everything that they could to help move the application along.
"There's no accountability in immigration," Sutherland said. "It doesn't take three years to determine if someone can come into the country or not."
Sekhon is working with an immigration lawyer, but despite the professional help, he feels he needs media exposure to put pressure on the government to make a decision. His story was featured last month in a Vancouver Indo-Canadian called Mehfil and he's prepared to talk to large Canadian newspapers and the Vancouver television stations.
The cost associated with the effort to bring Gurpreet to Canada is mounting. The legal fees, permit fees, the trip to India and the long distance phone bills are adding up. To date, Sekhon estimates that he has spent more than $5,000 trying to bring his wife to Canada.
As the issue grinds through the system Sekhon and his wife speak on the phone every night.
If a decision isn't made soon, Sekhon said he will give up on the dream of living in Canada and return to his homeland to be with the woman he loves.