Big smiles for Marissa Cunanan and her daughter, Astrid, after being apart for a year and a half. PHOTO SUPPLIED BY: MARISSA CUNANAN

Why is saying “goodbye” so hard?

Let me take you back to December of 2004. My mother, who had been working in Canada for the past year and a half, visited us in the Philippines for the entire month. I was only four years old. My only duties in life were to watch Barney & Friends and take my daily afternoon naps. For a whole month, my mother happily experienced every mundane childhood moment with me. But now we were back on the road, going on another family trip… Well, that’s what I thought. 

Like any other preschooler, I was fighting my nap time heavily. However, the cold air-conditioned air and gentle stop-and-go movements from the car had other plans for me. I was out like a light.

I was abruptly woken up by an ear-piercing honk. When I opened my eyes my mother was no longer in the passenger seat. Just my father’s sorrowful eyes staring back at mine through the car’s rearview mirror.

Eighteen years later, when asked about this specific moment, she says it was too hard to wake me up from my nap. It hurt my mother to potentially see me sob and cling onto her, all because of the word “goodbye.” So instead, she got her luggage and tearfully kissed me on the cheek and whispered the words “I love you,” before making her way inside the airport. 

The uncertainty of not knowing when she would next see my father and I hurt her dearly. It was going to be another two years before she saw us in person once again. In all, my family’s process to immigrate to Canada during the mid-2000s took about five years. 

Still a long process

Based on my family’s experience, I was curious to see what the process is like now compared to 19 years ago. 

As of March, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) had a backlog affecting about 1.8 million applications which was worsened by COVID-19. In this mix are about 519,030 permanent residency applications and 848,598 temporary residency applications. 

To address this, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship of Canada Sean Fraser recently announced a plan to let in more than 1.3 million new immigrants into Canada over the next three years. Additionally, the IRCC has recruited more than 500 new employees to tackle the backlog.

In a statement to the Calgary Journal, the IRCC wrote “This past week (March 28 – April 1), IRCC surpassed its goal to make 147,000 permanent residence final decisions in the first quarter of 2022 — doubling the number of final decisions in the same time period in 2021.”

At the time of writing, a person looking to sponsor a spouse living outside of Canada can expect a wait of one year to receive an answer, according to the Government of Canada’s website

However, that is not the case for Nara Chun who has been going through this process for over four years now. 

Currently, Chun’s wife and son are residing in Cambodia while his wife’s application continues to be processed. Since Chun became a Canadian citizen before the birth of his son, his son automatically became a Canadian citizen. Now, he is waiting for his wife’s papers so that they can reunite as a family in Canada. Despite getting married back in 2010, they are still trying to prove that their relationship is legitimate to Canadian immigration. 

Nara Chun with his son and wife back in 2020. PHOTO SUPPLIED BY: NARA CHUN

“I am disappointed with immigration,” Chun said. “Nobody is going to stay in a fake relationship for 10 years, immigration should consider that.”

Chun’s son will be turning seven in July 2022. During those seven years, Chun has only seen him in person three times, the last time being just before borders closed due to COVID-19. Each of Chun’s visits to Cambodia only lasted about a month. 

A pattern I found through speaking with acquaintances and loved ones abroad is that visiting for a month is a common practice for expats with tight budgets living away from their families. 

“I am so happy when I am with them but when I leave them it is the most painful feeling ever,” said Chun. “It feels like someone stabbed me.”

Due to privacy laws, the IRCC was unable to give me insight into Chun’s case at the time.

Canada still a top destination for newcomers

Making a big sacrifice of leaving one’s family behind in their home country is done in hopes of bettering the entire family’s life. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) 2020 report, Canada was listed as the eighth country of destination for migrants. The top three reasons people want to move to Canada are: work, family and studies.

Chun expressed his frustrations with the lack of opportunities back in Cambodia. Without money or connections, it is nearly impossible to get somewhere in life. That is why he is so eager to bring his wife and son to Canada. 

“One thing I am happy about is that my son and I are both Canadian citizens. He is free. He can come to Canada and get an education and get a job. He can do whatever he wishes to do,” said Chun.

Chun’s story resonates with my family and me. Much like Chun, my mother and father wanted to give me all the opportunities they did not have growing up — even if it meant being apart from one another for several years.

Fourteen and a half years ago, my father and I immigrated to Canada, five years after my mother did. My mother’s sacrifice is something I will be eternally grateful for. It is the reason I am able to take-on opportunities she was never able to in the Philippines. I have the ability to pursue what interests me and not just what is going to pay the bills.

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