The True North; Brazilian Immigrant Recounts her Story of a ‘Strong’ and “Free” Immigration Process

Written as an end-of-term project for the Summer Academy at The School of the New York Times, 2021.

There will undoubtedly be culture shocks when moving across the world.

For many Canadians, perhaps it would be the lack of the distinct, accented ‘O’ in our favourite word; “Sorry,” and most Americans may be startled (or pleasantly surprised) by the increased sweetness of iced tea abroad.

For Thyana Polessa of Northern Brazil, she challenges status quos of Canadian demeanor with her ever-persistent smile, even when faced with less-than-joyful events.

“If you are smiling, you just look stupid, because ‘Why would you be smiling?’” Polessa said, through a laugh.

She was clearly failing to conceal her contagious grin, one that had taken ten years to finally be sported on the face of the now thirty-one-year-old Canadian Permanent Resident.

Polessa at her goodbye party before moving to Canada.

According to a 2020 article by Forbes, Canadian immigration increased by 26% in 2015 to 2019. As immigrants came up North in droves, the United States saw a 7%-and-counting drop in legal immigration during the four years of the Trump administration.

Thanks to Canada’s relatively straight-forward points system for Express Entry, as well as Post-Graduate Work Permits, and the many education routes the country offers, the outcome of the process is mainly in the hands of the prospective immigrant themselves. However, it can become costly for them; emotionally, mentally, financially, or all the above. Polessa is no stranger to these costs.

“It took me about three or four months to meet another Brazilian,” said Polessa.

Her statement made perfect sense, considering that a 2011 census counted a mere 2,875 Brazilian immigrants coming to British Columbia that year, one of whom was Polessa, herself.

Even still, BC’s number of incoming Brazilians was astoundingly high when compared to other Canadian provinces in 2011. The Northwest Territories gained exactly ten Brazilian immigrants that same year, and both Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick took in a mere fifty each.

Polessa and her roommates at her first homestay in Canada.

With the choices of Canada, the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom to move to for English immersion, Polessa ruled out the USA.

“The U.S. used to sell this American dream,” she said, “That U.S. no longer exists.”

“It’s hard because a lot of people have this perspective where they are going to go to the U.S. and immigrate super-fast,” said Polessa, “And that’s no longer an option. Or they are going to find a job that’s perfectly legal and live there forever, and that is also no longer the case,” she said, solemnly.

She continued, sharing a recent and personal story of someone close to her.

Polessa described the experience of an old friend from Brazil, who fell in love with the United States during an exchange program in high school.

“He really wanted to bring his wife,” she said, “I told him, ‘Don’t go, don’t go, don’t go,’ and I explained my point to him. He couldn’t care less, he had that U.S. mentality on his mind from when he was 15, 16.”

She went on, recounting how they departed to the United States with no documentation or Visas.

“They were both working illegally for a full year, thinking that they would ultimately find a way to make their papers work, and ‘blah blah blah.’ This year he connected with me and said, ‘I spent all the money I had, I have no savings, and I am frustrated.’”

Acting on her notable distaste for the immigration processes of the United States, in 2011 as well as currently, Polessa selected Canada from her four main options.

With a clear goal in mind, Polessa touched down in British Columbia at the age of 21. Following a five-year bachelor’s degree in Architecture and Landscaping back in Brazil.

Polessa and family at her university graduation, back in Brazil.

She sought to learn English, and was doing so through a program for Engineering Tech.

“At that time we had a Study-Work Visa, so if you would come to study English, you could work, which is no longer the case,” she later continued, “I had no intention of immigrating to Canada.”

Evidently, Canada seduced her, especially once the raindrops were replaced with sunrays.

“I had no idea that in Canada, we have summer!” she said.

Polessa and her Engineering Technician classmates exploring Vancouver during her first week here.

From then, she sought to pursue Permanent Residence via the Express Entry system. Polessa encountered a hurdle fairly early, receiving news that her Engineer Tech program was not recognized as collateral school experience for the Comprehensive Ranking System, and she needed to re-think her plans for residency very quickly.

 “I got in the pool, the immigration process changed, and what I had as a qualification was no longer accepted by the Government of Canada.”

Having already paid approximately $30,000 in school fees for her previous program, she made the decision to continue the road to a Post-Graduate Work Permit, with the ultimate goal of Permanent Residency.

Her mission brought her to the British Columbia Institute of Technology, where she simultaneously studied both Graphic Design and Theatre Production, full-time. With a mandated twenty hour maximum to her work week, Polessa paid tuition by working virtually for companies that operated outside of Canada, as well as solidifying her career as a freelance photographer.

Polessa at a photography job for Cirque du Soleil.

The three years following her graduation at BCIT, Polessa worked domestically on a Post-Graduate Work Permit, accumulating work hours to apply for Permanent Residency. The application requires three full years of work experience in Canada, and this did not include the part-time jobs she held while at BCIT.

Polessa and classmates at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

One month before completing her full, required three years (36 months) of work, she was laid off due to COVID-19.

Having encountered this final hindrance on her journey to permanent residency, she reached out to Canadian Immigration Services.

“I had to do this whole explanation, and sent to them. They actually approved it and everything. But,” she paused reflectively, “It was all very stressful. I am not going to lie.”

Polessa estimates that in her ten years in Canada, she has spent $100,000 on becoming a permanent resident. She paid fees for various services in the process. These included formally translated documents, schooling (the price only amplified by international fees), proper documentation, and immigration lawyers.

Throughout her story, Polessa emphasized the importance being prepared for financial hurdles in the process of becoming a Permanent Resident.

“You always will have to have extra savings. If you work 20 hours, how can you do it?”

Polessa with Maria, her partner of three years, and their dog; Nano.
All photos provided by Thyana Polessa.

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