Saturday, February 20, 2016

Economic Immigrant

There have been a number of countries in which I've worked around the world. In most cases, special permissions and such are not required; you just show up at the border, tell the agent to whom you hand your passport that you are there for meetings, and off you go. In a few locales you need to get a visa, but it's usually a relatively painless process as long as you give yourself enough time before you head out and are willing to write the requisite checks. But a recent project took me to Canada, and for various reasons, our client decided to pay us out of their local subsidiary. As such, all involved had to register for work permits, and play the part of economic immigrants.

You would think that the process would be a breeze, being so chummy and all with our North American neighbors. But not so fast. Canada is very protective of its people and their livelihoods, and wants to make sure that there isn't someone in country who won't be working if I come in and do their job. Which, of course, is exactly the case, and that's what the game is all about.

It started a few months ago when we all got the first set of paperwork. Our client had set us up with a Canadian lawyer who knew the drill. There were forms to fill out, plus personal data and professional credentials and qualifications. Back and forth, with more forms, more bios pumped up to show how indispensable I was, more economic profiles. We had to get formalized contracts for arrangements that had been handshake deals before, the better to offer as documents in support of applications. All in all, several scores of electronic trees were sacrificed on the altar of governmental process.

Finally, a week or so before departure, a 33-page package of officialdom arrived in my email box. It started with a letter of introduction from the lawyer, talking about the project and how it would benefit the Canadian economy. It included press clippings, charts and graphs, and quotes from various government ministers. Another letter described me and my qualifications in glowing prose, so much so I was sure they had contacted my mother and asked her to write it. There were oodles of official looking forms and stamps and receipts (a lot of receipts) showing that I had submitted and paid and been duly authorized. And a final appeal to please, pretty please, let me into the country.

When I got off the plane, I informed the border control office that I was applying for a work permit. It being after nine on a Monday night, the DMV looking office he sent me to was pretty quiet, with only one person in front of me. When it was my turn, an officer called me up. He took my papers and started looking through. He asked me what my business was, where I was working and when I would be leaving the country. And then he asked me the linchpin of the whole thing: "Why do you think you're the only one who could do your job?" I shrugged. "I guess you'd have to ask the people who hired me." He looked at me, thought about it for two beats, and then said, "OK. Sit over there." He pointed to some chairs. I waited under 5 minutes, then he yelled for me to come back up. I paid the cashier, he stamped and stapled some form into my passport, and off I went.

In talking to other coworkers, some were waved through with no questions and no fees, some had my experience, while others got shunted to a side room for a longer session. But in the end, we call came through, and entered the country without incident. And no one anywhere at any location ever asked to see our stamped and approved paperwork.

To be sure, this is nothing like what you see happening in Europe, with refugees fleeing war and devastation to get them and their families to some kind of safe haven where they can build a future. My experience just meant lawyers and paperwork and time, at no risk to me in any way. At its worse it was an inconvenience, as well as a time and money waster. But with bureaucracies, sometime you got no choice but to dance to their tune.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves a travel for work or otherwise. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

No comments: