Ottawa man’s wife, two children stranded in Russia as they await decision on visa application

The children have Canadian passports, but the Orléans-raised man’s Russian wife has been unable to obtain either permanent residency or a tourist visa

Mathieu Taillefer displays a photo of his wife, Gulmira, and their children Chanel and Tristan.
Mathieu Taillefer displays a photo of his wife, Gulmira, and their children Chanel and Tristan. Photo by Errol McGihon /Postmedia

An international school teacher who left Russia on the advice of Global Affairs Canada after the invasion of Ukraine has been forced to return to Ottawa without his wife and two children.

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Mathieu Taillefer, 39, said goodbye to his Russian wife, Gulmira, and his Canadian children, two-year-old Chanel and nine-month-old Tristan, on Aug. 2.

The children have Canadian passports, but his wife has been unable to obtain either permanent residency or a tourist visa.

“I feel like my country has abandoned me,” Taillefer said in an interview Friday. “I feel like I should never have listened to the government of Canada and I should have stayed in Russia.”

Taillefer’s wife first applied to become a permanent resident of Canada in May 2021, when the family initially considered a move to Ottawa. She was told the processing time would be about a year.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, slowed the process of assessing applications, and Taillefer has recently been told not to expect a decision until May 2023.

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(On its website, Global Affairs Canada says family sponsorship applications for spouses living outside Canada take about 24 months to process.)

Soon after the war in Ukraine broke out on Feb. 24, Taillefer decided to heed the advice of Global Affairs Canada and left Russia.

The department warned Canadians living in Russia that security conditions were unpredictable “and could deteriorate without notice.” Federal officials recommended against all travel to Russia and advised those still in that country to “leave now while commercial means are still available.”

Taillefer, who had been teaching at an international school in Moscow for six years, quit his job and took his family to nearby Kazakhstan to apply for a Canadian tourist visa for his wife.

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The family also needed to obtain COVID-19 vaccines recognized by the Canadian government since the Russian Sputnik V vaccine was not approved for travel to Canada.

Taillefer hired a lawyer who applied for his wife’s visitor visa on May 17.

The family was initially told it would take 21 days to process. It has now been more than 85 days and Taillefer is still waiting for an answer.

On its website, updated weekly, Global Affairs Canada says it takes an estimated 71 days to process visitors’ visa applications from Russia.

Taillefer believes his wife’s application may be complicated by the fact she was denied a visitor’s visa in 2019, before they were married. “There is a risk they’ll say ‘no’ again even though we’re now married and have two kids,” he said, adding: “I’m hopeful.”

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Taillefer and his family spent two months in Kazakhstan and another month in Turkey while trying to obtain the necessary travel documents.

Running low on money, Taillefer decided to return to Canada to find a job, while his wife and Canadian children returned to Russia to wait.

He plans to work as a supply teacher in Ottawa while fighting to reunite his family.

“I would do anything to see my wife and kids,” Taillefer said. “I’m forced to be separated from them. It’s very frustrating.”

Taillefer grew up in Orléans and spent five years in China teaching English as a second language before returning to Ottawa to obtain his teaching degree. He moved to Calgary for a year, then took a job at a Russian international school in 2016.

Global Affairs Canada did not return a request for a comment Friday.

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