The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Buffalo Seekers

by Margot Miller

Who goes to Buffalo in a snow storm? Snow-birders returning from Florida, young people who have moved away coming home to visit family—perhaps for an emergency—, a few business people, and Canadian immigration visa-seekers. Some want temporary work permits, some want to join family members already in Canada, most want permanent residency. Most have been in the States as students or H1 workers, and they have gone through the four-to-six year wait for US immigration and given up. The Canadian process, like many other things there, works. Things happen when they say they will happen. There are no cost overruns and everyone is cheerful and happy to help—if the rules let them.

At eight o'clock in the morning there is a line of visa-seekers along the wall at the top of the escalator in the HSBC bank tower. The Immigration employee is pleasant and firm. She explains patiently and clearly over and over to every group of newcomers:

"Take out only your passport and the documents that you have been sent with the invitation to come to the Immigration Office. Make your phone calls now, you will not be allowed to make them upstairs. Either put your phones in your bags and plan to check the bags or plan to check the phone. Turn the phone off. Do you have your three photos? Place them inside the passport at the photo page. Open the paper and place it inside the passport." She finds a blank space on each of the supplicants, a shoulder, a coat, a scarf, and slaps on a sticker.

Sullah is Algerian. He drove all night from Philadelphia. He has his visa and his landing papers. He wants an extension because he cannot "land" by the date specified. Today is Thursday, he must land by Sunday at midnight. There are no extensions. He will have to land today, just across the Peace Bridge, and then go back to Philadelphia to get his things and move to Montreal, where his family awaits him. But he has not brought his American visa papers with him, apart from what is in his passport. He needs a travel document to permit him to re-enter the United States. He hopes to be granted an extension.

Xujun, a Chinese graphic artist is getting visas for herself and her husband, a sculptor. Ramesh, a computer programmer and web designer, is getting a visa only for himself. He waited six years for a green card in the United States only to have it denied. Robert, from Manhattan, is getting a visa because his wife is Canadian and has dual citizenship, as do their children. He flew in from Israel and has been granted an extension to finish his master’s degree there before settling in Canada with his wife and children in June.

The agent lets ten people at a time turn the corner and line up for the elevator. She tells the visa seekers to flash their sticker at the guard. Once inside the elevator she continues.

“When you get out of the elevator lineup single file just as you were downstairs. I will take your phones or your bags, and give you a claim check. You will sit in the row I tell you to sit in.”

Everyone does as instructed. If someone makes a mistake another visa seeker leans over and helps him to find the right place. Everyone here knows the turmoil in the stomach of every other person in the room. The agent stands again in front of the hopeful faces and tells them to move up one at a time as they are called to the windows. During the wait to pick up the passport with the visa affixed, available after one-thirty that afternoon, everyone will go downstairs to the international café or out into the snowy city.

Sullah is denied his extension. He retrieves his phone and takes the elevator down. He must now find the garage where he parked the car he rented to make this trip and head back to Philadelphia. Today is Thursday and he must return by Sunday. He is tired, but he heads out into the snow.

In the international café there are many dark skinned, thin, patient, and hopeful faces. There are Eastern Europeans, Indians, Pacific Islanders, South Americans, a Jamaican, two oriental couples. Some of them manage to eat. The two oriental men play chess.

About forty-five minutes before the office upstairs is due to reopen, the line starts to form again at the top of the escalator. The line thins by two-thirty and at four o’clock the last visa seekers have been escorted out of the building. Many have already made their way to the Peace Bridge, others to the airport or their cars to return to wherever they have been living, collect their belongings, and transport their lives into Canada.

Under our call for 'comments' during our "Love Month" at the CWC, several superb pieces were submitted from readers that deserved a greater prominence, this piece by Margot Miller, among them. Margot Miller divides her time between the Okanagan Valley (BC) and the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay (MD). Her creative work has appeared in (or will soon appear in) ChickFlicks, Long Story Short, Subtle Tea, BluePrint Review, Salomé, Moondance, Mosaic Mind, Fringe, The Angler, Steel City Review, Toasted Cheese and others. Miller's web page can be found at: .


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Fascinating, Margot. Thanks for the insight. Poor Sullah.

Wed Mar 28, 11:00:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Yes, thanks, Margot. I forget how cushy my life is sometimes. Poor Sullah, indeed.

Thu Mar 29, 01:39:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

you're so amazing my friend. xoxoxo thanks you..xoxo

Thu Mar 29, 01:45:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Canada has benefitted so greatly from the waves of immigrants who've settled here and continue to do so. Including me! Sometimes I forget I was born in England.

Fri Mar 30, 09:16:00 am GMT-4  
Anonymous suzanne aubin said...

We can all relate to this. I like the tone of the piece, sober and parcimonious, it matches the content perfectly.

Fri Mar 30, 11:06:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet said...

Sometimes we slam into the brick wall while travelling in the other direction.

Roger is a Canadian who moved to Buffalo and married an American. He obtained First Nations status, and he figured it was okay.

He and his wife had a baby girl, and decided to visit their family in Canada to show her off.

When they headed back to Buffalo, Border Patrol Guy didn't like the paperwork. He said it was the wrong kind. Roger would have to return to Canada and try reentry six months hence.

Roger couldn't bear the thought of not seeing his lovely young wife and his baby daughter for six whole months.

He called his mom in New Brunswick. She in turn called her niece, Betty Ann, who happened to be President of the New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council.

She made a few calls, and Roger was allowed to return to Buffalo. He made sure he obtained the right paperwork for next time.

Fast forward six years. On a visit to New Brunswick to visit his mother, Roger and his family entered Canada via the Peace Bridge, confident that his paperwork was in order. They made a merry trip Down East via Quebec and Maine. After a satisfactory visit with Mom, he attempted to return home by the same route.

No such luck. This paperwork wasn't right either. After three hours of quiet debate, he was told to go home and try again.

I don't know what hoops he had to go through, but my brother finally has his Green Card, the opportunity to become an American Citizen, and no more troubles with the border. They're constantly inviting themselves here to Newmarket, and I'm tired of cleaning the house for them. But I love him, and I'm glad he can visit freely.

Fri Mar 30, 08:27:00 pm GMT-4  

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