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Updated: Wed, 16 Jul 2014 18:34:24 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Erica Barnes gets citizenship papers and apology from Canada



Erica Dipuo Barnes was prevented from re-entering Canada after leaving her adoptive parents to visit her grandmother in South Africa. CBC

Erica Dipuo Barnes was prevented from re-entering Canada after leaving her adoptive parents to visit her grandmother in South Africa. CBC

A teenage girl's six-year-long battle for Canadian citizenship is finally over after Immigration Canada admitted it made a mistake and lost her approval due to a technical error.

The error was uncovered after CBC News ran a story on the plight of the 19-year-old and her B.C. family.

In an email to the CBC, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) said Erica Dipuo Barnes's citizenship was approved in 2013, but not entered into its global case management system due to a technical error.

Spokeswoman Nancy Caron said the error has been fixed and Barnes's citizenship papers are now on their way.

"We recognize that this has caused undue frustration. We apologize for the error and delay."

Barnes is both pleased and angry after the mistake made by Canadian officials in South Africa meant she could not work, study or even get medical care for the last year.

"I just think that is outrageous ... they're pretty much saying, 'Oh well,' like you can make up for it.

"But I'm actually glad," said Barnes, hugging her father, Vince Barnes. "It's a relief."

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander was in Vancouver Wednesday but did not want to talk about his staff's mistake.

"Anyone who has suffered because of an oversight of our staff, anyone who has suffered as a result of a mistake ... We will do everything in our power not to repeat those mistakes," said the minister.

"I'm always sorry to hear of mistakes that happened, or delays. Paperwork sometimes goes missing."

Barnes's father says no one from the immigration department has called or apologized to them.

"I'd actually like him [the minister] to physically apologize to Erica, because it's ... this young lady that has been put through hell."

Girl stuck in South Africa

Barnes was orphaned in South Africa at the age of seven after her father was killed in a robbery. She was adopted by family friends, Canadian Vince Barnes and his British wife, Ann.

The couple brought Barnes to Canada to live in Surrey, B.C., and applied to have her granted permanent residency status. When she was 13, she wanted to visit her grandmother back in South Africa.

Her adoptive mother, Ann Barnes, said she called Canada Immigration to see if her daughter could travel and was told it wouldn't be a problem.

CIC says Barnes shouldn't have left

But when Barnes's permanent residency card came through in 2008 while she was away in South Africa, her citizenship was denied because she wasn't in the country.

In its email, CIC explained that Barnes had applied for permanent residency on compassionate and humanitarian grounds from within Canada because "it would cause the applicant unusual or disproportionate hardship to apply for permanent residence from outside Canada."

When Barnes returned to South Africa, the CIC's Caron said she no longer met the criteria and that's why in August 2008 her application was refused.

For five years, Barnes was stuck in South Africa, couch surfing with family and friends, at times going hungry and on the street.

But two years ago, Barnes's adoptive mother called the Canadian Embassy and spoke to an official who informed her that being adopted by a Canadian actually entitled her daughter to citizenship. 

The couple applied immediately and last August, Barnes got a one-time visa and was on the next flight back to Canada.

Barnes's adoptive parents also received a letter from the Canadian High Commission in South Africa saying their daughter had been granted Canadian citizenship.

But a year later the family, having received no papers from the government, were again left wondering. When CBC interviewed Erica for this story, she broke down in tears over the uncertainty of her situation.

However, following our story, CIC discovered a technical error had caused the approval to be lost for a year. 

Barnes's papers are now on their way and the family is breathing a sigh of relief. Erica Barns is anxious to go to college and study nursing.

Barnes's father said bureaucrats have no idea the suffering their sloppy work can cause.

"Not including not being able to work or anything, Erica's got bad asthma and she's been in the hospital three times," he said.

The Barnes family will now be asking Canadian immigration officials to reimburse them the thousands of dollars they've spent on their daughter's medical bills over the last year — now that it's clear she was entitled to Canadian medical care all along.

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