We are ecstatic to announce that our dear colleague Renaud Thomas (Director of Rayjon Share Care Haiti in St. Marc, Haiti) has finally received his visa to come visit us in September!

 You, our community of supporters, helped make that happen. As reported in our interview with CBC in February, Renaud faced many barriers in the application process. Thank you to each and every one of you who wrote a letter to our local MPs, urging Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada for a just and transparent process and to take our request for expedition seriously. 

As we celebrate this wonderful news, it’s also important that we bring attention to the hurdles faced even after the visa was approved. You won’t believe the journey that Renaud was required to take, right into the dangerous “Red Zones” of Port-au-Prince* to complete the process and collect the visa.

About two weeks ago Renaud was notified that a decision had been made in his application, and he was required to physically present himself with passport in the capital within 30 days – or the visa would be cancelled. He made that arduous journey, taking over 8 hours one way (should be less than 3 hours) due to the need to travel around gang strongholds. They passed through multiple armed checkpoints.

Arriving in the capital at the passport office, he learned that the visa itself wasn’t ready. He’d receive an email to return and pick it up at another time.

Last week the message arrived: Come collect the visa within 7 days. The timing couldn’t have been worse, as Haiti had just experienced a very bloody week with a national civilian uprising “Bwa Kale” taking to the streets and joining forces to attack and push back against gang control. (Here’s one of the many articles about the situation and the violence part of this movement).

On Wednesday May 3rd, Renaud set out for the capital again. This time, the ride took 12 hours, and the bus was stopped multiple times and passengers searched for weapons. By the time he arrived, it was late and the passport office was long closed. Renaud had to find a hotel and try again in the morning.

map Port-au-Prince to St. Marc with red zones marked

Thursday morning he woke early to get to the office, only to find that the visa delivery service wouldn’t open until 11AM. More waiting.  

Finally, Thursday afternoon Renaud had the visa in hand. But now he also had to get home back through St. Marc Look at this route – more than 12 hours on the public bus, and passengers were forced to spend the night on the road, as it was too dangerous to cross a”Red Zone” late at night. [‘X’ marks a “Red Zone” gang-controlled area]. Renaud finally arrived safely in St. Marc about 8AM on Friday, May 5th. 

So, while we CELEBRATE this small victory, we also decry the hurdles Haitians face in something that should be so simple as picking up a visa. They shouldn’t be required to risk their lives. We urge the IRCC to assist. Could documents be delivered electronically? Could fewer trips be required to the capital? Could satellite offices be opened in other major cities?

From the time of his application in December, the visa took 140 days (much less than the 660 days we were first told to expect). We believe the strong advocacy and support from the Sarnia-Lambton community made a difference.

Special thanks to Lambton Immigration Partnership, Mayor Mike Bradley, and the Sarnia-Lambton Alliance Against Hate for their support and help. And thanks to MP Marilyn Gladu and her office team who helped us navigate the process and took our concerns seriously, bringing them to the attention of IRCC.

Caribbean event poster

NOW: We’re launching full tilt into PLANNING Renaud’s visit in September! Stay tuned for more details!

Get ready for a community-wide celebration of Caribbean culture hosted by Rayjon in partnership with incredible community partners. Big announcement coming soon! 

We promise to share lots of opportunities to meet Renaud and listen to his insightful perspective on the current situation in Haiti, and to learn from his expertise in international cooperation and sustainable development. 

*Please note: Renaud’s safety and security has always been our #1 priority. While we desperately want him to be a visitor to Canada, we have never required, not will we ever require, that Renaud put himself in danger. Through this process, Renaud has communicated constantly with Rayjon in Canada to advise us of his travel plans and steps he has been taking to reduce risk of harm. Renaud has been determined to obtain the visa, and in doing so has used local intel to advise his every movement. While “Red Zone” territories are extremely dangerous, we are confident in the steps that Renaud took to complete the journey as safely as possible. We wish to draw attention to the severity of the insecurity in Haiti–a harsh reality our partners face every day as they go about their business, and the injustice of an immigration process that forces applicants to make difficult decisions that place them in harm’s way. 

Want to know more about challenges facing the international cooperation sector in Canada?

Rayjon is committed to raising awareness about social justice issues that face our Haitian & Dominican partners, as we walk the path of development with them. Did you know that at this very moment in world history as nations around the globe face unprecedented challenges, Canada has backpedaled on its commitment to global aid? The Ontario Council for International Cooperation, of which Rayjon is a member organization, joined a coalition of 90 NGOs across Canada in releasing a joint statement calling on the Canadian government to deliver on its promise to increase foreign aid, noting that “compared to Budget 2022, the overall international assistance funding was cut by no less than $1.3 billion—a 15% cut.”

From our original post about visa injustice, February 24, 2023:

Rayjon is asking for answers from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. We’re in the process of supporting our trusted Haitian colleague, Mr. Renaud Thomas, to obtain a visitor’s visa to Canada. The many barriers in place reek of systemic discrimination and injustice. 

Sarnia charity decries long visa delay for Haitian visitor

Renaud Thomas is the Director of Rayjon Share Care Haiti. Rayjon in Canada has officially invited him to visit Canada. In December we assisted Renaud with making an application for a visitor visa to Canada. At that time, we were told that the estimated wait time was 660 days! WHAT?!

We have since submitted a request for the application to be considered urgent, for several compelling reasons:

  • Renaud’s presence would allow us host a cultural event in the Spring of 2023, free and open to the public, to celebrate Caribbean culture and raise awareness about Haitian history and current affairs. 

  • The event is being designed to promote inclusivity and cross-cultural exchange in the community of Sarnia-Lambton.

  • Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and now severe insecurity in Haiti, we have been unable to have much-needed face-to-face time with our Haitian partners since January of 2020. A visit is integral to maintaining the close partner relationships Rayjon’s work is founded on

  • Rayjon relies on public engagement and fundraising in Canada to support our funding commitments to our Haitian & Dominican partners. A visit from Renaud is paramount to achieving our fundraising goals, especially post-pandemic and considering that Rayjon doesn’t receive any government funding!

  • What about the process seems discriminatory? 

  • Lots of things. For example, check out the IRCC’s visa processing times calculator.. See what happens when you enter a European or “white” country, and then change that selection to choose a predominantly BIPOC nation. (Can sudden influx in applications from these countries be the sole reason for the delays? And if there is an influx in applications from certain areas – understandable, considering the intense turmoil many nations are facing – what is the IRCC doing to manage the load in a just manner?)
  • It’s as though the IRCC is selectively discriminating against applicants from certain countries, including Haiti. Renaud’s application included: a letter of invitation and support from Rayjon Share Care in Canada, a detailed itinerary of the proposed visit, all of the required documentation confirming his professional credentials and personal ties to Haiti (demonstrating no risk of Renaud attempting to remain in Canada), proof of financial ability to make the journey (and contribute to the Canadian economy while here!), and additional personal details to support his character (i.e. in addition to his work with Rayjon, Mr. Thomas is also the founder of two other Haitian non-profit organizations!). We’ve also shared an official letter of support and invitation from the mayor of Sarnia, Mike Bradley, outlining support from the City of Sarnia, and our plans to work collaboratively with multiple community organizations to host our community event. What exactly is the problem? 
  • Renaud has a host of knowledge and experience to share with Canadians. His perspective and wisdom would be transformational, for our local community, as well as for the future of our partnership in international collaboration. He says, 

I pray that the immigration understands that our goal is to share information and skills as the work requires.

–Renaud Thomas

We are asking for transparency from IRCC. We have 3 questions:

1) What are you doing to reduce unacceptable visitor visa wait times?

2) How can Canadians be sure that the application process is equitable and just for all applicants?

3) What is being done to expedite Renaud’s visa request?

Please let your MP know that you’re concerned about unacceptable wait times for Haitian nationals to receive visitor’s visas to Canada. We encourage you to reference Renaud’s case, and to let them know that you see his visit as being of tremendous value to Rayjon Share Care and to Canadians!