‘Time is running out’ for foreign workers struggling to stay in NWT
Leesa Myers is struggling to stay in Yellowknife, but since her papers to work as a foreigner have expired, she’s running out of time and money.
Myers, originally from Australia, moved to Yellowknife in December 2019 on a two-year work visa.
Shortly thereafter, she began working with the NWT’s Foster Family Coalition, supporting children who were exposed to drugs or alcohol before birth, as well as youth involved with the justice system.
“I work with really incredible young people,” she said. “They’re vulnerable, they’re at risk, but they bring so much joy … I think I’ve found a little bit of passion.”
In the spring of 2021, about six months before her visa expired, Myers began the paperwork to extend her stay in Canada. She said she started the process early to anticipate delays.
Because she had an application with the government, Myers said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) granted her an extension to continue working in the country while they process the documents.
In June 2022, that extension expired and her work status was revoked.
She has since continued her role with the Foster Family Coalition as a volunteer.
“I think in the beginning nobody expected it to take that long, so it was really easy to keep up the morale,” she said. “Now we’re seven months into a volunteer job and it’s a lot harder to stay resilient.”
Myers has no source of income and said she spent over $10,000 in her seven months without a job.
organization does not want to lose them
Tammy Roberts, executive director of the Foster Family Coalition, said they are also doing everything they can to keep Myers.
The organization hired an immigration attorney to ensure they were following the steps properly and they underwent a Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to prove the role could not go to a Canadian citizen.
Roberts said the nonprofit spent $10,262 on the attorney and related filings.
“My board agreed that we didn’t want to lose her because of her work ethic, her connection to our kids and all those things.”
In addition to the cost, Roberts said the bureaucracy and length of the process was incredibly frustrating.
“It’s the most alien, unfamiliar, ever-changing process I’ve ever attempted to work with in my life,” she said.
Mary Grzbowska is an attorney at Cooper Regel. Although she is not an immigration attorney, Grzbowska herself immigrated to Canada in 2013 and became a citizen in 2018.
“The rules are just bizarre, and they’re very, very technical,” she said.
Grzbowska said it was difficult to comment on Myers’ situation without seeing the files, but turnaround times depended heavily on the employee’s industry, salary and location.
She said she’s seen turnaround times as short as 10 days, but it could be months.
Missing answers most frustrating
Roberts said they can check their application status online and it appears it hasn’t been opened since it was submitted in 2021. She said that was the most frustrating thing.
She said she tried asking MP Michael McLeod’s office for updates but they had no answers.
McLeod was unavailable for an interview, but in an emailed statement, Speaker Hayden Moher wrote that Yellowknife constituency staff are “doing their best to assist all individuals,” including on immigration-related matters.
He said the office cannot comment on specific case files due to privacy concerns, but is working with IRCC “to improve services for all northern countries”.
Myers said that every time she’s spoken to someone from immigration, she can’t release specific case details to protect her privacy. She said they also attributed delays to COVID-19 backlogs.
Roberts said she has other workers from abroad trying to secure employment, but that experience has discouraged her from repeating the process.
“I wouldn’t take on another project like this,” she said, “just because of the amount of time, frustration and money it takes.”