An 11-year family separation –

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I moved to Canada to give my children a better life. It took four permanent residency applications before we saw them again.

By Mylene Badiola

April 30, 2024

In 2012, I was working as a McDonald’s manager in Tagaytay, a city about an hour south of Manila, Philippines. My then-husband, Franco, and I had three children: a daughter, Kate, and two sons, Jelo and Jade. He earned $600 a month and always struggled to make ends meet. I was constantly thinking about how I could give my children a better life.

That year, some of my McDonald’s coworkers moved to Australia to work in food service and quadrupled their salaries. There are special agencies at home that get overseas Filipinos jobs based on their skills and the demand in those countries. In March, I quit my job and signed up with an agency, which asked if I could take a position at Tim Hortons in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where I would make $2,000 a month. I could qualify for permanent residency there after working for a few years and then sponsoring my family to come to Canada. My children would have a better quality of life, so I decided to move.

Saying goodbye to my children was difficult. We had never been separated before. I told them, “Mommy will be back soon and I will take you to Canada.” We all cried, especially Jade, my youngest son. She didn’t let go of my hand the day I left.

I arrived in St. John’s with two other Filipinos from the same agency. Our employer picked us up at the airport. They were good to us: they had a house in the city where the three of us would live, and they helped us settle in and sort out our paperwork. I worked the 4am-noon shift at Tim Hortons; It was a busy, fast-paced place, but it felt familiar to me after all the years I had worked at McDonald’s.

I soon learned that there was a provincial nomination program in Newfoundland that could expedite my application for permanent residency after I had worked for a year at Tim Hortons. So in 2013, I applied with Franco and my three children as dependents. Gathering the documentation was a long and complicated process. I filled out a dozen forms and gathered a ton of documentation, including police clearances, certified copies of birth certificates, and medical checks. My family back home had to travel for hours to different offices to get some of the documents. It was months of work. The process was also expensive: it cost around $2,000 for the application alone, plus hundreds more to obtain all the documentation from the Philippines.

A year later, my application was denied; It turned out that Franco never did a medical exam for Jade. He was devastated. He had spent so much money, time and effort for nothing. He missed my children: most nights we would Skype at 10 pm, when my children were getting up in the morning and getting ready for school. I would stay in the background, chat with them and watch them do their morning routines before going to bed. I cried often when we talked on Skype. I felt like half my heart was missing. They missed me too. They asked me: “Mom, when are you coming home?” Then I would stay silent, because I didn’t have an answer for them.

My journey took a turn in 2014. I fell in love with a Tim Hortons regular, a truck driver named Michael. Shortly after, I broke up with Franco and moved into Michael’s basement apartment, and a year later, I got pregnant. After the birth of our son, Mikaal, the three of us moved into a three-bedroom house in Shea Heights, a hilly neighborhood in St. John’s.

I applied for permanent residency again in 2016, this time just for myself and my children. I had already been through the nominees program once, so I thought it would be easy to continue down that path. We had all our forms, including Jade’s medical checkup. But my application was rejected again because I forgot to sign one of the forms. That’s how strict they were. There was nothing I could do but go ahead and apply again.

In 2017, Michael and I had another child: a daughter named Maya. Two years later, I applied for permanent residency for the third time and was denied again. This time, it was because I sent my application payment via certified check. They had applied for it the first two times, but by then, the immigration department updated its system to pay for the application online. I didn’t know about the change. Meanwhile, I had to keep renewing my work permit every two years, which cost about $150 each time.

For 2021, I was preparing my fourth application for permanent residence. One of my Filipino friends at Tim Hortons, Hashe, had just become an immigration consultant and decided to take charge. She suggested bringing Jade to Canada on a child study permit while we waited for our permanent residency application to be processed. (Jelo and Kate were too old to qualify.)

The paperwork for Jade was completed in less than a year and he arrived in St. John’s in February 2022. The last time I saw him, he was only six years old; When she arrived she was 15 years old. You watch your kids grow up on a computer screen, but it’s not the same as seeing them in person. I half expected him to still be a little boy, but when he walked out the door, I was surprised by how tall he was. My mind went blank and tears began to well up in my eyes. But I was so happy.

Jade came to life in Canada quite easily. She started ninth grade at a local middle school in Shea Heights and quickly made friends. She also got along well with my two Canadian children. I often find Jade in front of the computer, teaching Mikaal a new game, and Maya is the little sister she always wanted. They are always drawing or painting together.

In 2023, after 11 years, my permanent residency application finally arrived and Kate and Jelo arrived in Canada in September. At the airport I burst into tears and ran towards them. My first thought was, Oh my god, they’re so old.. My daughter, Kate, was 21 and taller than me. I kept taking videos of them, just because I was so excited to see them. Kate said, “Mom, could you stop doing that?” It was comforting to know that she was still the typical young woman who got angry with her mother.

The transition was not entirely easy. At first, Kate and Jelo were pretty quiet when I asked them questions. They were also making a big change in their life: a new culture, language, food and friends. It took us a while to get familiar with each other, but our relationships have improved. And Kate and Jelo now have their own lives. They also got jobs at Tim Hortons and are saving for school. Kate was pursuing a psychology degree in the Philippines, so she will enroll in college here to finish her program. Jelo plans to apply to the police academy in Newfoundland. Michael is teaching him how to drive, a requirement for the job. It is comforting to see Michael treat my children as if they were his own.

The house is quite full. Kate and Maya are in one bedroom, Jade and Mikaal in the second, Michael and I in the third bedroom, and Jelo in the basement. Everyone gets along well. I feel grateful that Franco raised them to be good kids while I was away. I love watching them all play together. Sometimes Kate does Maya’s hair in the morning or bathes her at night. When we all have free time together, we watch movies at home or go to the mall and eat at the food court. Window shopping at the mall is our pastime and our bonding time.

I recently got a new job, as a food service worker at a local hospital. The salary is better and the work is less demanding. But I still pick up shifts at Tim Hortons from time to time. I’m trying to save money to buy a plane ticket home. I haven’t been back to the Philippines since I left 12 years ago. I miss my mom and she misses me too. I know what it’s like now to have your children so far from home.

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