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U.S. couple denied work visas want to return to Cape Breton

WHYCOCOMAGH — An Inverness County community is coming together to help an American couple denied work visas to continue working in the country they’ve called home for the past six years.

Kurt Andresen and his wife, Leaf Kraft, during happier times at his graduation from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish in May 2011. The American couple was kicked out of the country last month after their work visas were not renewed. Both of their employers in Inverness County are fighting to get them back at work.

Marilyn MacDonald is owner of the Bayside Garden Center and Flower Shop in Whycocomagh. She’s coming to the aid of former employee, Leaf Kraft, and her husband, Kurt Andresen, by starting to circulate a petition on Monday across the province in an attempt to pressure Ottawa into letting them re-enter the country.

She said they came here from New Jersey because they “wanted more of a rural experience” and Cape Breton offered just that.

“I’m a sixth generation Cape Bretoner in my area so I know it’s about lifestyle. That’s why we stay here," MacDonald said in an interview on Thursday.

“They accepted that lifestyle and fit into that lifestyle, and could manage to make a go of it.”

The two American citizens bought property on West Lake Ainslie Road in 2003. Together, they built a hobby farm with two milk goats and produced blueberries for sale.

In 2008, Andresen began a three-year bachelor of arts program at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish. He was able to enter the country on a full-time student visa. A year later, he received a work permit from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Kraft received a work permit as well. She went on to work for MacDonald over a four-year period. During that time, MacDonald said Kraft became a “senior employee” in helping operate the greenhouse on a seasonal basis.

Despite graduating with a dual BA in English and history and specializing in information systems, Andresen couldn’t secure a full-time job.

MacDonald said it was due to his temporary status in the country that made him an undesirable candidate when he would apply for positions within his field.

However, in order to successfully gain permanent residency status two years of full-time employment is a prerequisite.

And therein lies the “catch-22,” MacDonald said.

“With all that information that came out of the Ivany report about needing young, willing, educated people to come work in Nova Scotia, particularly in the rural areas, my God, what the heck is going on when our government is turning these people away.”

He would eventually land seasonal work for Lake Ainslie-based blueberry harvester LA Berry Farms and a property management company called Kencheck.

In the fall and winter, both took on crafting and other small jobs to make ends meet.

In a letter provided to media outlets, Andresen details the couple’s lengthy stay in Canada, and explained their delay in applying for permanent residency status was connected to their financial situation.

Due to their status as foreign workers, the federal government indicated to Andresen’s and Kraft’s employers they were to conduct a labour market impact assessment and confirmation survey at their own cost.

It was a condition neither small business employing him and Kraft could afford, Andresen said.

“Citizenship and Immigration Canada have made it impossible for Marilyn to continue employing Leaf even though she wants to. The same problem applies to my position at LA Berry Farms,” he said in his letter.

The purpose of the survey is to ensure the work in question isn’t taking employment away from an unemployed Canadian citizen.

MacDonald, and Andresen’s employer, Kenneth Pyne, expressed their belief the work and commitment to the community from both employees is steadfast.

“My Kencheck business has almost doubled in the time (Andresen) has been in my employ due to his high ability to speak, process information and interact with the client as well as do the requisite labor work of this job,” Pyne said in a letter to the department appealing for clemency.

With neither the businesses nor the couple able to bear the costs associated with the labour market study, Andresen and Kraft chose not to apply to have their temporary work status restored.

A letter issued on July 23 informed the couple to “leave Canada immediately.” Failing to do so would be grounds for Citizenship and Immigration to take “enforcement action” against them.

Cape Breton-Canso Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner has intervened on the couple’s behalf. He has sent a letter detailing the situation to Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.

Cuzner said he doesn’t believe the small businesses should have to pay a costly fee to employ Andresen and Kraft.

“We think there’s a caveat there that may allow (Marilyn MacDonald) to get past the fee. That’s what we’re hoping that she’s going to pursue now.”

Andresen and Kraft are currently staying with family in Pennsylvania, unable to enter Canada despite still owning property and livestock in Inverness County.

Kraft said worry over who will care for their two aging goats has them considering euthanizing the animals.

They also have an agreement in place to sell their home in West Lake Ainslie next year.

Neither Andresen nor Kraft could be immediately reached for comment on Thursday.

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