Zack Haman’s wedding didn’t go quite as intended.
The 25-year-old Kitchener native and his wife Heather had planned for over 100 guests at their wedding, but between the closure of the border between Canada and the United States and the realities of social interaction during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of guests was much lower in reality.
Haman is one of the nearly three million Canadians currently living abroad, having moved to the United States earlier this year to live with his wife, an American citizen. This meant that on the day of his wedding, his parents and brother were watching from an online stream back in Canada, instead of being there in person.
Changes to their wedding plans weren’t the only difficulties Haman has faced as a result of living outside of Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of the problem stems from the financial realities of currently living on a visa as opposed to a green card.
“[Heather] is the only one with an income that was guaranteed,” Haman said. “With COVID and Trump being who he is, it’s slowed down the process of going from visa to green card. Until I get the green card, there’s no way of legally working.”
The pair currently are living in Erie, Pa, where there have been just under 2,000 cases of COVID-19 among the 250,000 people living in the region. Haman said stores are requiring customers to wear masks and most people are following social distancing guidelines, though he added that he has seen consistent large get-togethers.
While the area Haman is living in has a relatively low case count compared to the rest of the country, he said there were some concerns with staying in the United States, mainly due to concerns about health care.
For the first six months he was living in abroad, Haman didn’t have any health insurance, leaving him with a fear of contracting COVID-19. According to Haman, it wasn’t the potential health issues associated with the disease, but instead the financial costs that could come with a potential hospital stay.
“I always kept in the back of my head that if something came up, I could come back to Canada and get help there,” he said. “But it would void the visa and we’d have to do the year of paperwork again. It was either get sick and end up having to pay off a $250,000 medical bill or say screw it to the visa and go back home for treatment.”
The concern of coming back to Canada and forfeiting a visa is a legitimate concern for Canadians living abroad – especially ones who have built a life for themselves in another country.
Like Haman, Sarah Bernardo is currently living on a partner visa – though in her case she’s living in Sydney, Australia.
For her, heading back to Canada would mean she wouldn’t be allowed back until Australia’s borders were opened back up to international travellers. While she made the choice to stay abroad, it didn’t come without some consequences.
Since Bernardo – who has lived in the country for almost four years – isn’t a permanent resident of Australia, she wasn’t able to receive the same financial assistance others got during the country’s shutdown.
The 26-year-old musician has hopes Australia will be able to open up interstate borders soon, since it’s impacted her band’s abilities to play concerts and festivals, as well as hitting Bernardo in a more personal way.
“The Queensland border is still shut, so we can’t do tours up there. We had a bunch of festivals booked with Southbound [Bernardo’s band] that have obviously been cancelled,” she said. “But also my partner’s family lives up there and we haven’t seen them since last December and they live in the country.”
The inability to see family is something Bernardo is dealing with over the course of the pandemic. While she’d usually be able to visit them over the Christmas holidays, the pandemic makes that impossible right now. For Bernardo that separation from her loved ones has an impact on her mentally.
“This year it’s especially hard, because I don’t know when I can go back and visit,” she said. “I don’t know when I’ll see my grandparents again, or if I’ll see my grandparents again. I don’t know when I’ll see my parents.”
Bernardo’s sister planned to visit her in Australia in April, but hopes of doing so were ended by the closure of Australia’s borders a week before she headed out. Instead Bernardo’s been talking to her family over video, which she acknowledges isn’t perfect, but works.
“We do have those social platforms where we can connect every day if we want to,” she said. “It’s not the same as seeing people in person but it’s better than having to send our carrier pigeons across the world with notes.”