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Filipino family gets 2nd chance at a life in Canada after paying $24K to unregistered immigration consultant

Even after they had grown up, every time Joy Thompson dreamed of her daughters, Aubrey and April Nuval, they were frozen in time as the nine- and 10-year-old children she’d left behind in the Philippines decades ago.

Her entire life has been devoted to bringing them to Canada to be near her.

“I’m so nervous,” said Thompson, pacing and fidgeting as she waited on the night of April 21 for the first of her daughters, Aubrey, now 36, and her husband to land at St. John’s International Airport from Dubai. Her second daughter, April, arrived the next day.

The long wait over, they ran into each other’s arms, holding in a long embrace. Thompson kissed Aubrey repeatedly on the forehead and stroked her hair.

“Thank you for being strong for us. I love you, ma,” said Aubrey.

A Filipino family gets second chance at life in Canada

Joy Thompson wipes tears from her daughter April Nuval’s face as the two reunite at St. John’s International Airport, after a long journey to get the rest of Thompson’s family in Canada.

“It’s mixed emotions after what happened,” said a teary-eyed, emotional Thompson. “The important thing is that they are here.”

Reaching this point has been a long, costly and painful journey for Thompson and her daughters.

Sent money home to educate children

When her children were small, Thompson fled an abusive relationship. To help support them, she took jobs as a domestic worker, first in Hong Kong and later in Canada in 2004.

She did see her children occasionally over the years, but longed to live in the same country as them.

She saved up and sent money back home to the Philippines, where the children were being raised by their grandmother, to put them through school.

A family stands for a photo at the airport.
From left to right: Arnel Boyongan, his and April’s daughter, Freixine, April Nuval, Joy Thompson, Aubrey Nuval and her husband, Davin Mamaril. (Chris O’Neill-Yates/CBC)

“I worked … seven days from eight to 10,” she recalled. “I worked that hours, Mondays through Sunday, just to save money and send it to them.”

Her sacrifice paid off, because her remittances helped all four of her children become registered nurses.

Her only son works in Yellowknife, and her third daughter is planning to practise in the United States.

Thompson, who now works in the hotel industry in Niagara Falls, Ont., has remained focused on one single goal: Bringing her children to Canada.

The family scrimped, saved and borrowed to make that dream come true.

A woman strokes her daughter's hair.
Joy Thompson, left, strokes her daughter Aubrey Nuval’s hair as they reunite at St. John’s International Airport. (David MacIntosh/CBC News)

No recourse after money and jobs vanish

A year ago, CBC Investigates uncovered a tangled tale that began in 2018 when Thompson’s former boss introduced her to the owners of a Toronto-based employment agency called Apex Connection, owned by Rose and Bert Smith.

Aubrey and April were working as nurses in the United Arab Emirates at the time, and Thompson jumped at the opportunity to engage Rose Smith to help them immigrate to Canada and get jobs.

Smith charged them $24,000 to prepare their immigration applications, and said she could get them positions as personal care attendants at a seniors’ home in Lewisporte, N.L.

Even though they were minimum-wage jobs far below their qualifications, Aubrey and April agreed to take the positions just to be in the same country as their mother.

But the jobs and their money were lost when their relationship with Rose Smith resulted in an intractable dispute.

Ontario woman out $24K after deal with employment agency goes sour

A Niagara Falls, Ont., mother is out $24,000 after a deal with an employment agency to help bring her two daughters to Canada went sour. Joy Thompson later found out the consultant wasn’t authorized to provide immigration services, and she had little recourse to get her money back.

When Thompson asked Apex Connection for the money back, Smith said she had done the work they paid her to do, and had never claimed to be an immigration consultant.

She told CBC News she had offered to meet and discuss a compromise with Thompson and her daughters, but that they’d declined.

Their hopes shattered, Thompson said the family was left with nowhere to turn for recourse.

A Good Samaritan offers to help

After the CBC investigation, Thompson and her daughters’ situation finally took a positive turn.

Wanda Cuff-Young, co-owner of Work Global Canada — an international recruitment agency in St. John’s, was returning from a recruitment trip in the Philippines when she saw the initial story on The National.

A woman sits on a blue chair. She's wearing a black top, black necklace and silver teardrop earrings.
Wanda Cuff-Young, co-owner of Work Global Canada, was returning from a recruitment trip in the Philippines when she saw the initial story on The National. (David MacIntosh/CBC News)

“I was truly shocked when I found out these ladies were given opportunities to work in Newfoundland, and the jobs were then cancelled,” said Cuff-Young.

She quickly sprang into action. Her agency contacted the province’s immigration office. That led to the health authority offering the Nuval sisters nursing jobs when they become certified through the College of Registered Nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Their English is extremely good. They’ve worked in the Middle East. They’ve got excellent experience. So they are going to be good value to the authority, and I’m looking forward to them being able to start their careers … as nurses in our province.”

Once Cuff-Young got involved a year ago, the process of coming to Canada began to move ahead, resulting in them being together as a family in Canada for the first time.

“I’m overwhelmed. And we’re so happy,” said Aubrey. “Finally, we’re here.”

A photo of two infants. The one on the right holds a red apple.
A baby photo of April, left, and Aubrey Nuvel. (Submitted by Joy Thompson)

Thompson’s life has taken another positive turn recently: She is now a grandmother.

Twenty-four hours after Aubrey arrived, April, her husband and 14-month-old daughter, Freixine, finally landed in Canada, after leaving the Philippines on April 17 and becoming delayed because of the historic floods in Dubai.

She echoed her sister’s feelings.

“Right now, what’s really on my mind is that, ‘At last, I’m here.’ Yeah, great relief,” said April after five days of travel.

After growing up largely without her mother, April is happy that her own daughter will get to know her grandmother.

A woman cries on the left. Another woman on the right laughs and cries while holding a child.
Thompson, left, reunites with her daughter April and granddaughter, Freixine. (Chris O’Neill-Yates/CBC)

“I missed them growing up. A lot of birthdays, a lot of graduations,” said Thompson.

“They are lucky enough that they can bring their own child here,” she said. “They should not miss a single moment, because they will never get it back.”