An error has been made, admitted an agent of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. "You are not in the system. You will have to submit your application again."
More than one error, I thought. But I have no choice. Three months after submitting an application to sponsor my husband, I must start all over again.
In 2011, 10,997 immigrants in the family class were admitted to Canada. This compares to 91,765 economic immigrants and 13,150 refugees. For the family class, an applicant pays a $550 processing fee and another $480 if the application is successful.
All the applications for family-class immigrants are processed at a case processing centre somewhere in Mississauga, Ont. Every working day a courier picks up more than 40 thick envelopes from a postal box and delivers them to this mysterious, anonymous place.
How many people work there, I wonder? What kind of space do they have? Knowing the story of my application, I picture a few harried workers surrounded by piles of files.
My application was delivered to the centre's postal box on Jan. 15 in a trackable envelope. On April 2, it was returned to me with a letter asking a certain "Mr. Sheriff" to "kindly resubmit your application along with the following marked items."
At first I thought someone had my name wrong, but when I looked at the list of marked items and compared it to my application, I had doubts about that. How could anyone confuse the name Sheriff with Johnston? (Error No. 1)
Also in the package was my original envelope and another one. It seems my application actually had been returned in February, but to the wrong address. (Error No. 2) Canada Post then returned the package to Mississauga where, it seems, it remained until I made a phone call March 20. For more than a month, no one bothered to check for the correct address, which very clearly was written on my original envelope as well as in my application. (Error No. 3)
At least the package I received April 2 contained my complete application and all the supporting documents. That was a relief. But some of these documents -- my husband's medical report and my income-tax assessment -- are time-sensitive, and the clock is ticking.
The estimated processing time for our application currently is 11 months. Now I must add three more. And I still don't know why they returned the application in the first place. If I have made some sort of error, it may be sent back a second time, causing further delays.
To add to the frustration, there is no way to reach the case processing centre in Mississauga. You have to consult a website or call one phone number that handles all immigration questions and scroll through many options. If you are lucky, you may reach an agent.
When I did reach an agent on March 20, she first told me I was "not in the system" and would have to send another application. Finally, she agreed to contact the processing centre on my behalf. "You should receive a phone call from them within 10 days," she said.
Well, no one phoned, but at least someone dug through a pile of envelopes, retrieved my entire application, slapped a letter dated March 22 to Mr. Sheriff on top of it, and sent it off -- this time to the correct address. Maybe I should be thankful.
In the meantime, if you know a Mr. Sheriff who has applied to sponsor a spouse or a dependent child, ask him if he has received a letter addressed to Ms. Johnston.
Author and freelance writer Faith Johnston lives in Winnipeg and Pune, India.