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Immigration headache deprives B.C. woman of medical coverage

COVID closed immigration offices to permanent resident applicants already living in Canada
Taryn Whitehead was happy to return to Canada from South Africa, but a COVID-related shutdown of in-person permanent resident applications has meant the loss of medical coverage, and being forced to miss her daughter’s wedding. (Caitlyn Whitehead/special to Langley Advance Times)

When Taryn Whitehead recently needed blood tests, the B.C. resident had to pay for them herself, twice, spending $600 in total.

And every time Whitehead’s doctor renews her prescription for anti-anxiety medication, the Aldergrove woman has to pay a fee.

“I’ve had to up my dose of my anxiety medication because of all the [stuff] that’s going on,” a frustrated Whitehead told Black Press.

“I’m just worried that something could happen and I have to go to hospital,” explained the native of South Africa.

She’s also been unable to get a drivers’ licence.

Whitehead said it’s because the federal government shut down in-person permanent resident (PR) applications due to COVID, without creating an alternative.

As a result, Whitehead has been unable to undergo a required interview that would allow her to get a new permanent resident card, which she could then use as ID to obtain medical coverage and a driving licence.

READ ALSO: As U.S. demurs, Canada welcomes vaccinated American citizens back across border

A notice on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) web page advised any PR applicants already living in Canada that all in-person “landing appointments” at offices in Canada have been cancelled until further notice, and warned applications may take “longer than usual” to process.

Whitehead has been waiting since January of 2020.

She had an in-person appointment, but it was cancelled.

“They won’t say when they will open the office,” Whitehead said.

She had permanent resident status before, when she was living in Canada from 2000 to 2004, but it expired after she and her family, Canadian-born husband John and their three children, moved to South Africa.

The couple and two of their children returned to Canada just in time for the pandemic to hit, shuttering the IRCC offices.

READ ALSO: Painful Truth: Canada’s immigration hopes may not be enough in post-COVID world

Abbotsford South Liberal MLA Bruce Banman and Langley-Aldergrove Conservative MP Tako van Popta have both made submissions on her behalf to the immigration authorities, to no avail.

“Despite a worldwide pandemic over the last 17 months, communities and governments figured out how to continue supporting their citizens,” van Popta remarked.

“The fact that all this time later, the federal department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship hasn’t figured out how to serve permanent residents in Canada is appalling. Ms. Whitehead’s story is only one of many where people legally entitled to be in Canada cannot get medical coverage, drivers’ licences or any Canadian identification. How much longer is it going to take for this government to figure it out?”

The latest word, a July 30 email from IRCC, was that there were no plans at present to reopen the offices.

“I’ve seriously tried everything,” Whitehead said.

“I just can’t win with them. I can legally work here, I pay my taxes, I’ve got a SIN number, I’ve got a medical number – but it’s not activated, because I don’t have ID.”

Whitehead is also unable to leave Canada for fear she won’t be allowed to return, which is why she couldn’t be present when one of her children was married.

“I had to miss my daughters wedding in South Africa because I can’t get in without it [a PR card].”

Langley Advance Times has reached out to IRCC for comment.

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Dan Ferguson

About the Author: Dan Ferguson

Best recognized for my resemblance to St. Nick, I’m the guy you’ll often see out at community events and happenings around town.
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