All Hélène Vachon wants is to have her stepdaughters move to Montreal to join her and her husband.
“It’s become a waste of time and money and energy and it’s… ” she says before trailing off, sighing.
Vachon was one of many who joined a protest in Montreal Saturday against the closure of the immigration office at the Canadian embassy in Havana, Cuba. Staffing was reduced in the wake of a mysterious illness that has affected more than a dozen diplomats and their families.
Staff tweeted May 8th that they will no longer take applications for visitor visas and study/work permits, or conduct permanent residence interviews. Services including fingerprinting and medical exams now have to be done outside Cuba, and families like Vachon and her stepdaughters are stuck.
“We cannot tell them, ‘Ok, go to this country and do that and come back to Cuba,'” she fumes. “We cannot do that — they are minors!”
One’s 15 years old, the other 17, so she or her husband need to travel to Cuba to accompany them to another country like Trinidad and Tobago, and not just once.
“One time for the biometrical (fingerprinting and photography), and one time for the medical exam,” Vachon explains. “That means taking time off work.”
Each time she does, she tells Global News, it amounts to a $5,000 expense, and means the teens’ move to Canada will likely be delayed.
The office closure isn’t just affecting new visa applicants, though. Those who have gone through the full process are wondering about visas for their loved ones.
“We’ve had no answer. No answer to tell us where our files are,” explain Jo Anne Madaire and Marjolaine Caya. Both have husbands in Cuba who are waiting for their visas. It’s been more than a year and they fear they’ll end up waiting so long they’ll have to redo the entire process, spending thousands more dollars.
Others even worry how Quebec festivals that regularly invite Cuban artists might be affected.
“Like the Cuban festival in St Sauveur at the end of August,” says immigration consultant Johanne Boivin-Drapeau. “All those artists will need to go to Trinidad, too. I’m very scared.”
WATCH: (May 11, 2019) Police break up unauthorized gay rights march in Havana
By Saturday afternoon Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada hadn’t replied to a request for comment from Global News.
The situation has left many feeling frustrated and hopeless.
“We’re not talking like a restaurant or something,” says Boivin-Drapeau. “This is big. This is security.
“I can’t imagine that it’s gonna reopen.”
She and the other protesters understand the security concerns, but want the embassy to at least find a way to make the situation easier.