Man who spent 27 years in Canada, denied citizenship, ‘exiled’ to Netherlands returns home
His ultimate goal has not been achieved, but Jonathan “Yoani” Kuiper is back in Canada — for now — even if only for a couple weeks to see his family.
Despite his best efforts, Kuiper is not technically Canadian; but you wouldn’t know it from how happy the Netherlands-born, Canadian-raised 34-year-old is to be back in this country.
Global News first detailed Kuiper’s unique citizenship case in June.
He was born in the Netherlands in 1982; his family moving to Aylmer, Ont. when he was just 14 months old.
Kuiper grew up here, spending 27 years in Canada before heading overseas to do his master’s, eventually settling back in the Netherlands to get a job he says was not available in Canada.
But Kuiper made a critical error of omission in his time here.
He didn’t apply for citizenship until 2013, years after he’d already relocated.
He was eventually denied, despite all his time here, because he hadn’t spent enough days in Canada in the four years leading up to his application.
During the two-year wait for an answer, he let his permanent residence expire, thinking citizenship would be a certainty.
When he was eventually denied citizenship, Kuiper said it was like a kick in the gut.
WATCH: Man who lived in Canada for 27 years says he’s exiled in Netherlands due to citizenship snafu
“My entire life I’ve always identified and understood myself to be Canadian,” he told Global News in a June Skype interview from Amsterdam.
After being denied citizenship, there was an error in the ensuing visa process that left him unsure whether he’d be able to come home to see his family any time soon.
“They issued me a visa accidentally last December, which I then used to attend my citizenship hearing in February,” Kuiper said.
“Then Minister McCallum said ‘that visa was to attend your appeal hearing and the visa which you could’ve used to stay in Canada from then on.’ But I wasn’t aware of that so I had already used that visa.”
He got the situation sorted out in late fall, though. He’d be allowed to return home for the holidays, but through a very roundabout method.
“You’re only allowed one visa,” he said. “That means I don’t have a visa anymore that I can use to come into Canada. It’s one-time entry, and so the only way you can come back into Canada in this situation is if you travel through the States and cross the border by private car or walking.”
Kuiper took the latter option the morning of Dec. 16.
He flew from the Netherlands to Newark, New Jersey, from which he was supposed to go to Buffalo but ended up in Rochester, New York due to a nasty snow storm.
From there, he took a bus to the Peace Bridge, cleared customs and walked the full two kilometres across in the stinging cold.
Documenting the trek in a video on his phone, Kuiper celebrated “33 hours of traveling, three connecting flights, two cancelled flights, a snow storm, a motel in Rochester, a cab, a Greyhound, and now my mom’s waiting for me on the other side!”
WATCH: Man who lived in Canada for 27 years still without citizenship
Kuiper wonders if federal Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef has to jump through any similar hoops.
She revealed this year that she was actually born in Iran, not Afghanistan as she’d initially thought and was noted in her documents when her family sought asylum here in 1996. A seemingly honest mistake.
“I made a mistake (too),” notes Kuiper. “Minister Monsef made a mistake on her citizenship application, that’s been recognized … and they’re trying to accommodate that.”
“I think it’s only fair that Minister McCallum takes a look at my file again.”
Since the summer, MPs from both the NDP and Conservative parties have lobbied on Kuiper’s behalf, but Liberal Immigration Minister John McCallum has refused to exercise his power to get personally involved.
Kuiper’s family says officials are considering only the letter of the law, not the spirit of it.
“Next year (the government is) going to ask 300,000 new immigrants to come in while Yoani, when he came here, he was a baby,” says his mother Anneka Janssens, who raised him here and has Canadian citizenship herself.
“It makes me sad.”
Kuiper knows his battle for citizenship is all but lost at this point. His appeal to have his permanent residence reinstated could take a couple years.
His visit home is not meant to deal with that. This is mainly a trip to enjoy family for a couple of weeks.
He’s got a job and a girlfriend to eventually go back to in the Netherlands, and he’s not feeling particularly confident about his appeal here.
“I don’t like my chances,” he said. “I think they’re going to continue to throw the book at me.”
“Merry Christmas, Minister John McCallum.”
© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.