Francina Mettes and Thomas Schouten with the 200-page document they submitted in December of 2018. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Immigration rules could put 94-year-old on plane home to Netherlands

Saanich couple faces split-up after 45 years

A 94-year-old man living in Cadboro Bay is on the cusp of returning to the Netherlands amid the pandemic.

Thomas Schouten has been living in Saanich for two years with his common-law partner Francis Mettes, 83, in a house with Mettes’ son and his family.

Theirs is a story of international love that started in the 1970s. Now, they are facing being split apart, just as old age is beginning to slow down Schouten, who is otherwise healthy. Schouten has an open work permit, issued in March of 2019, as he seeks permanent residency. However, in September, Schouten was requested by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to file a detailed history of his life dating back to before his 18th birthday.

It required his addresses, work history, travel history, and unemployed history back to his 18th birthday in 1949. And it asked for his Dutch military records back to 1946. As his sponsor, it also asked for Mettes’ travel history and address history since her 18th birthday.

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“I can’t understand all the things they have you doing [for the application], you can’t remember all that,” Schouten said.

“It’s silly,” Mettes said. “How can we remember that far back? You know all the places you’ve been but you don’t know the dates.”

Adding to the challenge was a 14-day deadline.

Victoria-based immigration consultant Zaphera Dewing helped Schouten in his application to gain permanent residence but was unsuccessful in getting the deadline extended for the travel history. It meant tracking down papers from all over Europe for the well-traveled couple.

“[Schouten] and his wife both expressed their desire to respect our decision-makers by following their instructions, but … going back 76 years is not going to be easy and [could not] be done in 14 days,” Dewing said. “I am concerned for Thomas’ health and the emotional stress that the family is suffering from this request.”

Dewing did file the couple’s relative histories as best they could. And now they are waiting to hear back.

On Monday, Mettes said Schouten remains willing to abide by the rules and return to the Netherlands, where he has an apartment. Mettes said they debate as to whether or not he should go, as she is his main support, she said.

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Complicating things even more is how high the COVID-19 numbers are in the Netherlands, which had more than 88,000 new cases between Nov. 2 and 15 and is in the midst of an upward spike.

“This waiting is taking its toll,” said Mettes. “It’s given us anxiety. With COVID, you like to go but we know the COVID is very bad [in the Netherlands]. If we knew what to do, we would be happy. But we don’t know, so we are in limbo.”

IRCC spokesperson Nancy Caron said the department understands that asking for a long history may be difficult.

“As there have been changes to the Citizenship Act over the years, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada often requires historic information about applicants and their parents in order to make sure that the applicant qualifies for citizenship,” Caron wrote. “IRCC wants to make sure that the applicant’s history is properly considered and understood so that we can make sure he receives the recognition he may be entitled to.”

Schouten, who is Dutch, and Mettes, who was raised in Canada by Dutch parents, both had previous marriages and have been together since 1975. They met at a New Year’s Eve party when Schouten bought her a drink. At the time, Mettes had moved to the Netherlands to work. Later, she moved back to Canada. All the while they remained together, Mettes with a home in Canada and Schouten with an apartment in the Netherlands.

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They made it work by traveling as tourists and also by spending the maximum of six months at each other’s residence in either country. However, as Schouten’s age is catching up with him, they decided a few years ago to slow their travels, and chose Canada. In Saanich, they are close with Mettes’ grandchildren.

The couple wishes to stay together in one home.

The initial processing stages of Schouten’s application was smooth. IRCC received the application in December of 2018 and issued him an open work permit in March of 2019, Dewing said. (Spousal open work permits are important because the foreigner can apply for a social insurance number and obtain B.C. medical, she added). It allowed Schouten to get a social insurance number and join the B.C. medical services plan. This is important because this month his health insurance ended in the Netherlands, Mettes said.

“If I go to the Netherlands I will have to start the [immigration] procedure there, all over again,” Mettes said.

editor@saanichnews.com


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