illustration by dominic bugatto

An 11-Year Family Separation

I moved to Canada to give my children a better life. It took four permanent residency applications before I saw them again.

BY Mylene Badiola

April 30, 2024

In 2012, I was working as a McDonald’s manager in Tagaytay, a city one hour south of Manila, Philippines. My then-husband, Franco, and I had three kids: a daughter, Kate, and two sons, Jelo and Jade. I was earning $600 a month and always struggling to make ends meet. I constantly thought about how I could give my children a better life. 

That year, some of my McDonald’s co-workers moved to Australia to work food-service jobs—and they quadrupled their wages. There are special agencies back home that get Filipinos jobs abroad based on their skills and the demand in those countries. In March, I quit my job and signed up with an agency, who asked if I could take an opening at a Tim Hortons in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where I would earn $2,000 a month. I could qualify for permanent residency there after working for a few years, then sponsor my family to come to Canada. My kids would get a better quality of life, so I decided to move. 

Saying goodbye to my children was difficult. We had never been separated before. I told them, “Mommy will come back soon, and I will bring you to Canada.” We all cried, especially Jade, my youngest son. He wouldn’t let go of my hand the day I left. 

I arrived in St. John’s with two other Filipinos from the same agency. Our employer picked us up from the airport. They were good to us: they had a house in the city where the three of us would live, and they helped us settle in and sorted out our paperwork. I worked the 4 a.m. to noon shift at Tim Hortons; it was busy and fast-paced, but it was familiar to me after all the years I had been working at McDonald’s.

I soon learned there was a provincial nominee program in Newfoundland that could fast-track my application for permanent residency after I’d worked a year at Tim Hortons. So, in 2013, I applied with Franco and my three kids as dependents. Getting the documentation together was a long and complicated process. I filled out a dozen forms and gathered a pile of paperwork, like police clearances, certified copies of birth certificates and medical checks. My family back home had to travel for hours to different offices to get some of the documents. It was months of work. The process was expensive too—it cost about $2,000 just to apply, plus hundreds more to get all the paperwork from the Philippines.

A year later, my application was denied; it turned out Franco never got a medical exam for Jade. I was devastated. I had spent so much money, time and effort for nothing. I missed my children: we’d Skype most nights at 10 p.m., when my kids were up for the morning and getting ready for school. I’d hang out in the background, chatting with them and watching them do their morning routines before I went to bed. I cried often when we Skyped. It felt like half of my heart was missing. They missed me too. They’d ask, “Mom, when are you coming home?” I’d stay quiet then, because I didn’t have an answer for them. 

My journey took a turn in 2014. Franco and I had grown apart, and we broke up. I eventually found love with a regular customer at Tim Hortons, a truck driver named Michael. I moved into Michael’s basement apartment and, a year later, I was pregnant. After our son, Mikaal, was born, the three of us moved into a three-bedroom house in Shea Heights, a hilly neighbourhood in St. John’s.

I applied for permanent residency again in 2016, this time just for myself and my kids. I had already gone through the nominee program once, so I thought it would be simple to continue on that track. We had all our forms, including Jade’s medical check. But my application was rejected again because I forgot to sign one of the forms. That’s how strict they were. There was nothing I could do but move on and apply again. 

In 2017, Michael and I had another child—a daughter named Maya. Two years later, I applied for permanent residency for the third time and was denied again. This time, it was because I sent my application payment via certified cheque. That’s how they had requested it the first two times, but by then, the immigration department updated its system to pay for the application online. I didn’t know about the change. Meanwhile, I had to keep renewing my work permit every two years, which cost about $150 each time.

By 2021, I was preparing my fourth application for permanent residency. One of my Filipina friends at Tim Hortons, Hashe, had just become an immigration consultant and decided to take over. She suggested bringing Jade over to Canada under a child study permit while we waited for our permanent residency application to go through. (Jelo and Kate were too old to qualify.)

The paperwork for Jade came through in under a year, and he arrived in St. John’s in February of 2022. The last time I’d seen him, he was only six; when he arrived, he was 15. You see your children grow up on a computer screen, but it’s not the same as seeing them in person. I was half-expecting him to still be a little boy, but when he came out of the gate, I was shocked by how tall he was. My mind went blank and tears started pouring out of my eyes. But I was so happy.

Jade slipped into life in Canada quite easily. He started Grade 9 at a local high school in Shea Heights and made friends quickly. He also got along well with my two Canadian kids. I often find Jade at the computer, teaching Mikaal a new game, and Maya is the little sister he always wanted. They’re always drawing or painting together. 

In 2023, after 11 years, my permanent residency application finally came through, and Kate and Jelo arrived in Canada that September. At the airport, I burst into tears and ran toward them. My first thought was, Oh my god, they’re so grown up. My daughter, Kate, was 21 and taller than me. I kept taking videos of them, just because I was so excited to see them. Kate said, “Mom, will you stop that?” It was reassuring to know she was still a typical young person, getting annoyed at her mother.

The transition wasn’t all smooth. In the beginning, Kate and Jelo were pretty quiet when I asked them questions. They were making a big life change too—a new culture, language, food and friends. It took time for us to warm up to each other, but our relationships have improved. And Kate and Jelo have their own lives now. They got jobs at Tim Hortons too and they’re saving up for school. Kate was in the middle of a psychology degree in the Philippines, so she’ll register for university here to finish her program. Jelo is planning to apply for the police academy in Newfoundland. Michael is teaching him how to drive—a requirement for the job. It’s heartwarming to see Michael treat my kids like his own. 

The house is pretty full. Kate and Maya are in one bedroom, Jade and Mikaal in the second, me and Michael in the third bedroom and Jelo in the basement. Everyone gets along. I feel thankful that Franco raised them to be good kids while I was away. I love seeing them all playing together. Sometimes Kate does Maya’s hair in the morning, or gives her a bath at night. When we all have time off together, we’ll watch movies at home or go to the mall and eat at the food court. Window shopping at the mall is our hobby and our bonding time. 

I got a new job recently, as a food-service worker at a local hospital. The pay is better and the job is less demanding. But I still pick up shifts at Tim Hortons every now and then. I’m trying to save up money to buy a plane ticket home. I haven’t gone back to the Philippines since I left 12 years ago. I miss my mom and she misses me too. I know what it’s like now, to have your kids so far away from home.

As told to Andrea Yu

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