Child’s autism blocks Canadian permanent residency bid by UVic instructor
Mar 29 2012
American Jeffrey Niehaus and his family have been denied permanent residency in Canada and must return to the U.S. because their four-year-old boy has been diagnosed with autism.Photograph by: Darren Stone , Victoria Times Colonist
A popular University of Victoria psychology instructor and his family have been denied permanent residency in Canada because his four-year-old son has autism.
While Jeffrey Niehaus is preparing to move his wife, Jane, and two kids back to his native U.S., he's sounding the alarm about problems with the Canadian immigration system, which turned down the family's application for permanent residency on the basis that autism treatment would be too costly.
"We understand some safeguards have to be put in place," Niehaus said Wednesday.
"I think that (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) were unable or unwilling to balance . . . the contributions we could make as taxpayers and the amount it would cost (to treat the child)."
Allowing the family to stay would have been a mutually beneficial arrangement, Niehaus said.
"The contributions we could have made would have been significant and the math didn't work out the way CIC projected. I kind of wish . . . there could have been some other mechanism in there to take more things into account."
Jeffrey's wife is a registered thoracic nurse at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria. Their son, Kurt, was slow to speak and at when he was 18 months old, they began looking for a possible reason. He was diagnosed with autism, a developmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, in the summer of 2010.
That same year, the couple's daughter Maria was born prematurely.
The diagnosis of autism caught the attention of officials processing the family's bid for permanent residency status, and it was subsequently turned down.
It's difficult to calculate costs for a child with autism because the condition covers a broad range, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe.
"You can say (a child) is or is not on the spectrum, but that gives you very little information on what kind of support they will need for the rest of their lives," said Niehaus.
"We have not been able to get that information from any of the doctors we worked with, and it's professionally respectable for them not to say so, because they just don't know."
UVic's lawyer filed papers to Citizenship and Immigration Canada on Niehaus's behalf, but to no avail.
The length of the immigration process gave the family "time to make a soft bed, no matter what happened," said Niehaus, who has found a job in Virginia.
Niehaus said he was reluctant to go to the media earlier because his family was sensitive to exposure and judgments of strangers.
"I don't know if it's a matter of pride, but we just decided we had a lot of options open to us. We would forgo public media attention and look into whatever options we had," he said.
There's also something uncomfortable about being at odds with a country that the family wanted to call home, he said.
"It was going to be mutually beneficial relationship, and if the country doesn't see it that way, there are definitely other places we can go."