Stranded in a foreign country for two months, Ekaterina Usmanova admits she’s “cried all the tears [she] could cry out.”
In August, the permanent Canadian resident returned to Russia for the first time in nearly three years to visit her family. Like so many who were unable to visit one another while on opposite sides of the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic had forced them apart
On her return trip to Toronto, the 26-year-old had a layover in Istanbul, Turkey. That’s where her journey took a massive detour when her travel wallet and Canadian permanent resident (PR) card were stolen.
As panic began to set in, she recalls thinking, “I’ve just lost my entire life; I’ve just lost everything I’ve worked for.”
She says blind spots with the security cameras at the airport meant officers couldn’t see the culprit behind the brazen theft.
Alone in a country she’d never visited before, Usmanova filed a police report and then went to the Canadian consulate in Istanbul to try and replace her PR card. She wasn’t even allowed to enter the office and was denied access because she’s only a permanent resident, not a full citizen.
Her next move was to file paperwork with the Canadian embassy in the Turkish capital of Ankara. That was two months ago.
Usmanova has reached out to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada on multiple occasions. Exasperated, she tells CTV National News: “It’s been really difficult to get a hold of anyone human, to get any human correspondence.”
Nearly defeated, she admits, “I’ve exhausted all of my emotions throughout this really stressful journey.”
Ekaterina Usmanova. (Courtesy of Ekaterina Usmanova)
Eight years ago, Usmanova moved by herself to Vancouver as a teenager to attend University. Three years ago, she decided to move to Toronto to continue building her life and to start her professional career as a marketing manager and a professional photographer.
She admits, “I don’t have a home anywhere else but in Canada, because for the majority of my grown-up life that’s where I’ve lived.”
Travelling with Canadian papers as a permanent resident, she thought her emergency situation as a young woman stuck in a foreign country would expedite any processes by Canadian officials. That hasn’t been her experience.
“I thought it would take roughly two, maximum four weeks for me to get my things in order and come back. I definitely had no clue it would have gone this way.”
She adds that the government’s lack of action “is definitely adding a huge, bitter drop into my glass of tears at this point.”
Usmanova said she’s had to move 15 times over a 58-day period while in Turkey. She was forced to leave the country and return to Russia, where she’s now waiting for any word on when she can return home to Canada.
Last week, she said she received a message from her employer in Toronto.
“Unfortunately, my company had to terminate my position after two months of uncertainty,” she says.
Usmanova is unsure how she’ll cover rent on her Toronto condo, where she financially supports her younger sister who’s in college and lives with her.
Putting on a brave face, she says, “I don’t want to think negative. I’m a big fighter. I don’t want to think we could lose our apartment.”
Sitting in their shared Toronto condo, her younger sister, Sofiia Usmanova, reads the sticky notes on the fridge that the two would write and leave for each other.
One of Sofiia’s favourite notes reads, “Thank you for your unconditional love.”
The 20-year-old says she’s called immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada multiple times a day for weeks but always receives the same frustrating automated message: “We’re experiencing a high volume of calls, please call back later.”
Sofiia Usmanova and Ekaterina Usmanova. (Courtsey of Ekaterina Usmanova)
When asked if she believes the Canadian government is handling her sister’s situation with the urgency she believes is required, she flat out says, “no, you don’t feel like you’re being appreciated or that this case is important to the Canadian government.”
Reflecting on her experience trying to reach a Canadian immigration official for help, the younger Usmanova shares that “it’s not just about her it’s about the immigration system, the whole system doesn’t work properly.”
Canada plans to welcome nearly 1.5 million new permanent residents over the next three years, in part to fill crucial job shortages in multiple sectors. However, one immigration lawyer believes Canada’s system is in chaos and deficiencies need to be addressed immediately.
“The status quo is not acceptable, you’ve already got huge backlogs, you’ve got huge delays and yet you want to increase immigration simultaneously,” lawyer Matthew Jeffery tells CTV National News.
“The government has to devote greater resources to the immigration department to ensure the staffing is there to process applications in a timely way.”
CTV National News reached out to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada about Usmanova’s case multiple times this week. However, they were unable to provide an update before our deadline.
One day after sitting down with CTV National News, Ekaterina Usmanova received an email from the Minister of Immigration’s office, saying, “please be assured that every effort is made to deal with the applications received in the most efficient and effective way. However, due to COVID-19, all existing and new applications will continue to be processed but may experience delays.”
“I don’t think (the email) could remotely be considered as satisfactory,” says Usmanova.
She wants to return home to the life she’s worked so hard to create in Canada.
She shares this message with anyone who’s reading her story, including the Canadian government: “I’m trying to get back to my life in Canada, I want to get back to my sister to take care of her, I want to return to the life I’ve been building for the last eight years, and my home in Toronto. Please, I want to come home.”
Usmanova has been left in immigration limbo, unable to return home to Canada for 71 days and counting.