Jillian’s story: From Chicago to Nova Scotia

This is the first post (of what I hope will be many more) written by other members of our community sharing their own experiences moving to Canada. If you would like to share your own story, please contact me at canadaquestions@gmail.com. Enjoy! 

Dear Dreamers,

Greetings from Nova Scotia, Canada! I have written this letter to share my story of trading in the shadowy DACA life for the Canadian dream. Both my husband and I were Dreamers with DACA since it became a thing in 2012. We were both 22 at the time, full of hope (embodied by President Obama) that things would be on the up-and-up for us, after spending all our lives undocumented (my husband was brought from Mexico at age 8, I was brought from the Philippines at age 4). Our background stories are very similar to all of yours — we only wanted to get an education and do right by our families, have a career, a family of our own. My husband and I married in 2014 and had our son in 2015. We all know what happened in 2016 — the election that changed our lives, and all of yours. With Trump’s inauguration looming, my husband and I made the decision to leave America for good and pursue a normal life in Canada.

It began with a phone call to Campbell Cohen, a Canadian immigration law firm offering free telephone consultations, to see if we were even eligible to make the move given our DACA status. I was assured that having DACA did not disqualify me, and that in fact, we had very strong chances of being invited for automatic permanent residency in Canada under a program called Express Entry. This was based on: level of education (I had a Bachelors and was working on my Masters at the time), “ripe” age (my husband and I were 26 at the time of the consultation), and English proficiency (we could speak it better than some Americans, TBH). In spring 2017 I found out I was pregnant with my second child. This was during the stage we were gathering the paperwork needed to apply for Express Entry. We slowed down a LOT, but managed to get our profile into the Express Entry “pool” of candidates in Nov 2017. I had my daughter as we rung in the new year 2018. Now with two children and DACA having been rescinded by the Trump administration, the pressure was back on. But our CRS score was 425, and despite Canada doing two drawings per month, we were not among the high scorers being picked for permanent residency. Then, in August 2018, a miracle — the province of Nova Scotia, which we knew nothing about, sent us an invitation to apply for their nomination because they had a shortage of early childhood educators (and I had over 3 years of experience as one). If we were successful in getting the nomination, we would be awarded an extra 600 points to our score, thereby guaranteeing our invitation for permanent residency. We went for it (nothing to lose!) and got it! Now our CRS score was 1,025, and we were picked for permanent residency at the next drawing.

After that it was only a matter of completing the permanent resident application for myself, husband, and two kids (this is a tedious but straightforward process). We paid the associated fees, slapped together the settlement funds we would need to demonstrate to immigration officials (you need to show you have a certain amount of money to keep you on your feet while you are new to Canada). In November 2018 (3 months after that first contact from Nova Scotia), we submitted our federal application for permanent residency. Now it was out of our hands, and just a waiting game. In August 2019, our application was APPROVED. We cried a lot of happy tears and began saying our goodbyes to family and friends(some we would not be able to see again for years). We said our goodbyes to America. We condensed our entire lives into about 6 cardboard boxes and some luggage. We booked a flight for October 7, 2019, and that is the evening we landed and were told “welcome to Canada” at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport. After a quarter of a century of living with the fear of being undocumented, a measly 2.5 hour airplane ride delivered us out of it.

It sounds easy on paper the way I’ve laid it out, but this entire journey has been a roller coaster of emotions. The worst part was waiting — when there was 9 months of nothing left to actually DO except wait for Canada’s decision and, in the meantime, not really knowing what to do with our lives while in limbo. The best part was seeing how much love and support we had from family and friends, who were there encouraging us, helping us financially, and just keeping us sane. Was it a sacrifice to leave behind everything we’d ever known? 100%. But we made the move for the good of our family, and for our 2 kids. We were tired of living in uncertainty and, frankly, it is a completely unfair way to live. Consider my nagging nightmare: deportation, which in our case, would be catastrophic given that our countries of birth are half a world away from each other. As cliche as it sounds, when life gives you lemons and you think the situation is hopeless, you truly have to do everything in your power to SOMEHOW make lemonade, even if it means giving up some things in the process. Permit me another cliche: the night is always darkest before the dawn. That was certainly the truth for us, but when dawn arrived… Damn. It was glorious.

Our new home: we love it! It is different from Chicago but the slower pace and smaller city have been perfect for this current stage in our life as a young family. It took my husband and I about 3 weeks to find a place and 1.5 months to find jobs. Now we are so excited to be able to think of places all around the world we’d like to travel to and visit — because now we can! Our past three years have been chaotic, but now we are so much closer to making this new decade one of stability.

Dreamers, I wish you courage and send you positive vibes, no matter where you are in this process. Stay strong, and take back control of your life — it is of no less value than anyone else’s. Blessings, Jillian.

5 thoughts on “Jillian’s story: From Chicago to Nova Scotia”

  1. Hi Jillian,

    Thank you so much for sharing your family’s story. As a DACA recipient myself, facing so much uncertainty these days, it is a relief to hear positive stories like yours of hope and freedom in a beautiful country. It seems that you and your family have settled in well in Canada and sounds like you feel you made the right choice.

    If at all possible, would you be able to provide me any tips or guidance as to how to get started in at least finding out whether I may qualify or not? Like your husband, I too am Mexican native, brought here with my brothers at 8 years old. I’m now 32 years old, single, have a Bachelor’s degree in business administration, working in corporate America for many years, but only a couple in my field since I obtained my degree in 2018.

    I’m considering starting the online profile for Express Entry, as I wait for the dreaded decision on the program by the summer. Would you say this is good starting point?

    Any feedback is much appreciated. Thank you!

    1. Hi Lucy, this is D. Are you on facebook? Jillian doesn’t get notifications for comments on my blog, so she is unlikely to see this. However, she is very active on our facebook page, The Leaf Network. If you are looking to connect with her, that is probably the best way to do it. Anyhow, you didn’t ask for it, but I will also give you my 2 cents. Start here: https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/immigrate-canada/express-entry/works.html

      Take care!

      1. Hi D,

        You are the best, thank you! I ended up reading more on your blog after submitting this comment and feel so relieved hearing of your’s and Jillian’s endeavors. I’ve requested to join the FB group, hope I make it in 😉

        And thank you, yes I will go ahead and start on the immigration website. Also sharing this info with a couple dear friends in similar situations as myself.

        Again, thank you so much for all the information you’ve provided here. This possible opportunity seems much more realistic and achievable knowing someone before me has gone through this whole process and do not have regrets. While nothing is for certain, it cannot hurt to give it a shot, right? Hope to connect with you and the rest of our fellow Dreamers in the FB group soon!

        With much appreciation,

  2. Hi,

    I’m a US Citizen with a Master’s degree married to a DACA recipient (received after the age of 18) with a US high school diploma but proficient in English and possesses a trade skill (a Commercial Driver’s License that got taken away due to federal regulations). We would love to love to the Alberta region, but I don’t know where to begin…do I go first and obtain a job and then he come second? Plus with family here in the US, would we be able to visit? Thanks…

  3. Thank you for sharing your story! I’m also a DACA recipient living in Chicago, for the majority of my life. With another possible disastrous election, I’m excited to begin this process. Thank you for this blog.

    I managed to scrap a degree from one of the best fashion design schools in the world & I hope there is a shortage of designers.

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