It’s been five weeks of long walks in the sun for Mark and Marina Sarty and their dog — and lots of waiting. Marina, a Ukrainian national whom Mark married in that country two years ago, has not yet been approved for entry into Canada, so the couple is stuck abroad.
Getting married doesn’t give you the ability to leapfrog — it gives you the ability to enter the system
Fleeing Marina’s home city in Ukraine amidst martial law and fears of insecurity, the quickest and easiest visitor’s visa for the two was offered by Mexico, and that’s what brought them to their rented apartment in Puerto Penasco.
When Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko suspended his nation’s ordinary laws on Nov. 26, Sarty said it was time for him and his wife to leave. Martial law was imposed across nearly half of the country the day after the Russian military fired at and then seized three Ukrainian navy ships and their crews. Tensions were high and there was “talk regarding an imminent invasion — it was a little scary,” said Sarty.
A self-described “military brat” whose family moved around a lot, Sarty himself spent eight years with the Royal Canadian Air Force until an on-duty injury led to his release in 2010 on a military pension. He bought a house in Windsor but resumed his globetrotting ways several years ago. Ukraine became a favourite destination, he volunteered at an orphanage and he then met Marina — who boasts a masters degree in accounting and worked at a shipping company — at a gym in her home city of Cherkasy.
They were married in June 2017 and were in no rush to leave. There has been fighting since 2014 on the eastern border with Russia, when that country invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula, but things were relatively peaceful and comfortable in their central part of Ukraine, said Sarty.
A year ago, however, “things started to escalate, things were getting more unstable,” he said. At the start of 2018, Russia cut off the natural gas supply to Ukraine. Last fall, after assembling the necessary paperwork, Sarty submitted an application to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to sponsor his spouse as a permanent resident.
Then came the globally condemned Kerch Strait Russian naval incident and the ramped-up rhetoric in Ukraine, at a time when the government of a relatively unpopular president was gearing up for national elections. Sarty said he asked Canadian authorities whether his wife was good to return to Windsor with him should war break out and the response was that “every Canadian is responsible for their own security.”
The Canadian border was open to Sarty alone, but “I’m not going to leave my wife behind.”
Marina tried for a Canadian visitor’s visa — typically good for up to six months — but that was denied due to the couple’s long-term plan for her to stay. Spousal sponsorship applications for permanent residency typically take about a year.
So, after martial law was declared in Ukraine, the pair flew to Mexico.
They’ve been relying on a Windsor immigration consultant found on Google, but Sarty said it’s been expensive and slow.
The couple has begun looking at what to do next if the Canadian borders remain closed when their Mexican visitor’s visa expires. They’ve looked at other countries to move to, but Plan B, according to Sarty, is applying for permanent residency in Mexico.
The former military man said federal Mexican authorities regularly zip by their modest apartment in machine-gun-mounted pickup trucks. “It’s not terrible, but it’s Mexico — we can’t afford to stay in a resort,” he said.
Long-time Windsor immigrant lawyer Drew Porter said he sympathizes with the stranded couple but also understands some of the reticence on the part of Canadian authorities.
A visitor visa, by definition, is for someone not planning to stay, he said. And there have been problems with so-called “marriages of convenience” — Canadian citizens connecting abroad with new spouses interested mainly in an expedited entry into the country.
“Getting married doesn’t give you the ability to leapfrog — it gives you the ability to enter the system,” said Porter. And it takes time, with the need for criminal, security and other background checks, as well as a medical examination, and all of that being processed in a system with “overburdened” consular staff abroad.
Not knowing the details of the Sarty case, Porter said a possible avenue for the couple is under Section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which allows for special humanitarian and compassionate considerations to be considered under certain circumstances.