After months of delay, B.C. scholar gets Canadian travel document needed for U.S. job

After spending nearly half a year trying to secure it, Vancouver-based Chinese scholar Guldana Salimjan has received the Canadian travel document that will allow her to pursue her research in the United States and reunite with her husband.

It comes two weeks after CBC reported delays in the processing of her application by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

Salimjan, a postdoctoral fellow at Simon Fraser University (SFU), is one of more than two million Canadians left in limbo due to immigration status and travel document delays.

The chance at a new career as a visiting scholar in the U.S., where she will be able to reunite with her husband, a professor at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., had been on hold since February.

But on Tuesday, Salimjan received a letter saying she could pick up her certificate of identity — a Canadian travel document that is an alternative to a passport for refugees, stateless people and permanent residents who cannot obtain one from their country of origin.

“I felt really relieved. I’m very thankful.”

Guldana Salimjan holds the certificate of identity that will allow her to travel to the U.S. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Salimjan directs the University of British Columbia’s Xinjiang Documentation Project, a federally-funded program documenting the internment of ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang region. The project has been referenced during debates in Parliament.

An ethnic Kazakh from Xinjiang and a Canadian permanent resident, she specified in her application that visiting the local Chinese consulate to renew her expired passport meant she would have to disclose her personal information to the Chinese authorities, who she feared might use those details to harass her and her parents who are living in China.

Application expedited after CBC story

Salimjan says she expected the IRCC to deliver the certificate of identity within 20 days of submitting her application, but she still had not received it after more than 20 inquiries to the agency.

However, after CBC publicized her case, Salimjan received a letter from the federal agency instructing her to submit a notarized statement describing the precariousness of her situation.

According to the IRCC letter, Chinese citizens wouldn’t normally qualify for a Canadian certificate of identity, unless accompanied by paperwork from Chinese authorities proving their ineligibility for a Chinese passport.

But Salimjan says it’s too much to ask of people who are in exile from China and fear repercussions for drawing attention to themselves or their families in China.

Her husband, Sam Bass, says the four-month delay took a tremendous financial toll on him and his wife and risked jeopardizing their careers if it had continued.

“It would have been really devastating to leave that job just because of paperwork,” he said. “It’s a waste of everybody’s time, a waste of money, sort of throwing time and money into the trashcan.”

Guldana Salimjan’s husband, Sam Bass, says the delay in securing the travel document placed a huge financial burden on them. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

‘Amazing combination’ of activism and expertise

Indiana University Central Eurasian studies professor Marianne Kamp, who invited Salimjan to Bloomington to pursue her research, says she is an “amazing combination” of human rights activism and deep academic expertise — and graduate students studying Xinjiang can benefit immensely from participating in her project. 

“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to foster the career of a young scholar in ways that benefit our department [and] our students,” she said.

The Indiana University campus in Bloomington. Central Eurasian studies professor Marianne Kamp says the research project that Salimjan will conduct in Indiana will benefit graduate students studying China’s Xinjiang region. (Indiana University)

Salimjan says she is really excited about the vibrant academic environment at the university which will help her project flourish. 

“There are a lot of language programs that teach Central Asian languages like Uyghur and Kazakh, so it’s going to be great.”

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