On his deathbed in a hospital in Egypt, Amr Abogabal was anxious about one thing in particular: He kept reminding his wife and daughters not to miss the expiry date on their Canadian immigration visas.
The family had been approved to come to Canada under the investor immigration program and issued papers to that effect in 2013. His heart attack last April came as they were preparing for the big move.
What they didn’t know was that their hopes for a new life in Canada hinged on the survival of Abogabal, an oil company accountant, who had made a $120,000 deposit in 2011 to qualify.
Abogabal died in April 2014, and his wife and daughters have been denied permanent residency status and lost most of their hefty deposit. They are now embroiled in a bitter battle with the National Bank of Canada to get it back.
“My father invested the money in Canada so we could get our immigration status,” Abogabal’s older daughter, Khadiga Abogabal, told the Star. “They’ve had our money since 2011. Now, they refused to give us status or a full refund.
Khadiga Abogabal said her father and mother, Omaima Ibrahim, 51, began the investor’s application process in 2010 and wired $120,000 to the National Bank the following year.
In August 2013, they received their visas, which remained valid until July 20, 2014. She said her father had a heart attack on April 21, 2014, and spent 27 days in intensive care before he died.
“When he was awake, he’d scribble and remind us to go to Canada before the (visa’s) expiry date. We’d actually booked our plane tickets in March (2014), before my father went into hospital,” said Khadiga, 26, a university graduate who worked as a pharmacist in Egypt.
Khadiga, her sister, Fatma, 20, and their mother arrived here on July 10 as planned but officials refused to issue them permanent residency after they revealed that the elder Abogabal had died.
In September, immigration officials issued an exclusion order and ordered them to leave Canada immediately. Her mother and sister flew back to Cairo in October, but Khadiga insisted on staying until the family gets their money back.
After months of negotiations, the family said, they were told they’d get a refund of just $41,000 — an offer the three women, now left with nothing but a house in Cairo, rejected.
“We trusted Canada and we paid the money before receiving the visas two years later,” Khadiga said. “After that, the bank told us the refund would be $41,000. Where is the other $80,000? Where is the justice?”
Citizenship and Immigration Canada confirmed the family’s story but said officials’ hands are tied and they must follow the law.
“For economic immigration applications, dependants (spouses and children) can only become permanent residents after the principal applicant becomes a permanent resident,” said department spokesperson Sonia Lesage.
Under the old investor’s program in effect at the time, applicants were required to invest $400,000 into the Canadian economy through financial institutions here. If that amount was paid in full, the Immigration department would return the principal, without interest, after five years. Another option was to pay just $120,000, but that amount was non-refundable. (The qualifying amount has since doubled.)
The family’s lawyer, Rodney Woolf, said there’s not much the family can do now to obtain permanent resident status, but it should not have to beg the bank to get a full refund considering the unfortunate circumstances that led to the failure of their plan.
“This was certainly a rare occasion, but it’s all in the bank’s power to give the money back to the family,” Woolf said. “The idea was for the family to put up the money and come here, with the expectation of becoming permanent residents. But if you can’t for whatever reason, there is no excuse to take away this amount of money from the family.”
In a series of emails to the Toronto Star, National Bank of Canada spokesperson Claude Breton first explained to the family that no refund had been made because they had not produced the required documentation.
After the bank had been informed and provided with notarized documents, including the late Abogabal’s death certificate and will, Breton said the family had not provided other requested documents.
He would not reveal to the family what other documents were needed.
Despite repeated requests, the bank refused to reveal its general refund policy under the investor immigration program and referred the family to its ombudsman.
“I reiterate the client should go through our thorough complaint settlement process if needed,” Breton wrote in an email. “On my side, I will not be making any more comments and hence make sure media relations do not interfere with the complaint process.”
The bank’s website said its ombudsman is responsible for “finding prompt, fair and impartial solutions to the problems submitted.” Its annual report said it processed 566 complaints in 2014, with 147 disputes resolved to the complainants’ satisfaction.
Khadiga said the family will file a complaint with the bank’s ombudsman’s office.
“It is not my dad’s fault, or our fault, that he passed away before he could come to Canada,” said Khadiga, who has been surfing from couch to couch at acquaintances’ homes. “This money and our house in Egypt is all we have now. I am asking you for your mercy.”