An Austrian woman wants to help newcomers in the Yukon through the daunting immigration process with a group called Immigrants Helping Immigrants.
Astrid Mauch, a mother of a Canadian-born one-year-old, started the group on Monday.
Mauch arrived in Canada from Vienna in April 2008 as a temporary resident. As an Austrian citizen, she did not need a visa to enter the country but had a limit of six months to visit.
In January 2009, she fell in love with Gregory Mauch, a carpenter, in Dawson City. They married four months later, while she was waiting for an extension of her visit.
Three weeks after their wedding, she got a rejection letter from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) that stated she must leave the country. She called CIC and was advised to stay and apply for permanent residency through the spousal sponsorship program, Mauch said.
She lived in “panic mode,” Mauch said, not knowing if she would get deported. “There’s always this fear even if it’s irrational. I don’t have the right to be in Canada. It’s a privilege I might get one day,” she said of her initial reaction to the letter.
What CIC never told her was that under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, her status is considered legal if her application for permanent residency is underway and her husband agrees to financially support her during the process.
It took Mauch two years to gather the police clearance from Austria, medical exams, and proof that her marriage was legitimate, which are required documents for her husband to sponsor her.
In an effort to prove they really are in love, the couple enlisted all their friends in Canada and sent CIC details of every trip they took. “Someone in Alberta has all my wedding pictures,” Mauch said of the anonymous immigration official to whom she sent her documents.
In December 2011, her husband applied to sponsor her, when she was already two months pregnant. As a temporary resident, she was not eligible for health care.
The couple tried to pay for private insurance, but no company was willing to cover her, according to a letter she showed the Yukon News that her husband wrote to MP Ryan Leef. CIC told them there was nothing they can do, that they just needed to wait, Gregory Mauch stated in the letter.
Desperate, they pleaded with Leef for help with receiving the required proof from CIC that they had applied for permanent residency so they may be granted an exception for health-care access. Leef responded and Mauch was given temporary health care just two weeks before her son was born.
Processing times for spousal sponsorship range from eight months if the spouse is from Israel to as long as 29 months for Pakistanis. For Austria, the wait is an average of 11 months, according to the CIC website,
The whole immigration process has taken its toll on Mauch. She didn’t work, drive, study, or vote for five years – because she wasn’t allowed to.
“I never thought something like this would happen to me. In Europe, I lived a very western, privileged, entitled life. Coming here, I was being ripped of so many human rights that I thought I could never lose,” Mauch said.
She thought Canada would be happy to have her, being of European descent, Mauch said. “I can speak German, I can speak English. I would be an asset to this country.”
Having studied international development in Austria, the situation is quite ironic. She wanted to eventually work for the United Nations’ chapter in her hometown of Vienna. She even volunteered to help process immigrants’ papers in a non-profit in Austria.
Now, she envies people who work at McDonald’s, Mauch said.
Having learned how to navigate the immigration system on her own, she wants to help those who feel left in the dark avoid the mess she went through.
Mauch used to stay on the payphone in Walmart for half an hour, waiting to speak to an immigration official. “Living in the bush and dealing with bureaucracy is very hard sometimes,” she said.
She’s still formulating some of the group’s details. At the very least, she would like the group to provide “emotional support” to each other and share advice on how to process immigration papers with each other, she said.
Mauch is also seeking help from lawyers and psychologists or counselors who are willing to volunteer time to deal with the legal and emotional baggage that comes with applying for citizenship in Canada.
The problem is, there aren’t any lawyers who specialize in immigration in the territory. But there’s at least one on her side in Vancouver.
Immigration officials have “very vast powers to do what they see fit without having to provide an explanation or be subject to scrutiny,” Ronak Yousefi, an immigration lawyer with the Maclean Family Law Group said.
Liberal immigration critic Kevin Lamoureux, the MP for Winnipeg, agrees. He opposes the impact legislation has had on families being torn apart as a result of former Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney’s crackdown on “convenience marriages” in 2012, he said.
“We need to put a higher priority” on spousal sponsorship and family reunification, Lamoureux said.
Meanwhile, Mauch is hopeful that she will receive her permanent residency soon. She already obtained an open work permit in September, which allows her to start working in the Yukon.
Having her son Eli has motivated her to carry on.
“I’m really proud he has dual citizenship with Canada and Austria. It’s also weird when your little son, who is a year old has more rights than you do. He has health care, I don’t.”
CIC did not comment on Mauch’s case before press time. Mauch may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook under IHI (Immigrants Helping Immigrants).
Contact Krystle Alarcon at