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Pique'n'yer interest

Spot the American seasonal worker

It ain’t easy being American. Not if you are trying to get a seasonal work permit in Canada. Kermit never wrote that song. Probably because the famous New Yorker was too content hanging out with celebrities to bother scheming ways to jump the border. But if our childhood friend had written a song about visas instead of a song about colours, I would be singing his tune a little more often.

Fact: It is harder for a “non-professional” American to get a seasonal work permit in Canada than an Aussie, Brit, or Kiwi. Need an example? Take a look around. How many young Americans do you see living the dream in Whistler? One? Maybe even two if you are lucky? We are a rare breed in this international town.

This was made especially clear to me during the Chamber of Commerce’s Spirit orientation meeting last fall, where I was the only American in a room full of more than 300 people. Most of the foreign workers at the meeting were from Australia, Britain, New Zealand and Japan. There were a couple of people from Sweden, France and even Brazil. But as far as those from the country next door, I was the only representative.

So why are there no American seasonal workers in Whistler? One explanation is that when Americans decide to go to another country, they go somewhere truly foreign. They jet set to Australia, Argentina, or Spain. Why bother going through all that paperwork to end up some place that looks eerily like home?

But I don’t think that is the full story. After all, the great American road trip from east coast to west coast is still popular, so we are definitely into travelling to nearby destinations. And we like to ski, snowboard and have fun. And, with the U.S. dollar so low, I am sure most twenty-something Americans aren't too opposed to living across the 49th parallel and earning Canadian bucks.

If you ask me, it is because getting across that border — and then staying across that border — is so damn difficult.

I speak from experience, after almost six years of trying to weasel my way into the Canadian work force. I’ve been successful (the fact that I am writing for a Canadian publication spells that out), but it has not been an easy road.

Work visas into Canada — and most countries — are generally difficult to acquire, but for those lucky Australians, English, New Zealanders and French, access to Whistler is made possible through the working holiday visa. This all-inclusive visa is available to anyone aged 18 to 30, and allows holders to work anywhere in Canada for up to two years.

Unfortunately, Americans are not eligible for those golden visas the Canadian government seems to be handing out like candy to other countries. Trust me, if we did, you can bet you would see a whole lot more Yankees working as waiters, ski instructors and hotel personnel in Whistler, especially those falling under the category of “under 21” who are still waiting to be legally allowed into a bar back home.

And yes, maybe it is kind of our fault. Well... not our fault. It is our governments' fault. Plural. Both U.S. and Canadian governments have shown over the last few decades that they are not into the whole open-your-borders-to-your-neighbours thing. The U.S. government has had a large role to play in this. For a country built by immigrants, we Americans recently decided we are not into the whole immigrant idea. (Exhibit A, the latest illegal immigration debate a la 2008 Presidential Election; Exhibit B, the yearly green card lottery). We are especially worried that foreigners will take our jobs. Even Canadians. Thus, Canadians are not really into giving us jobs. Thus, there are few Americans in Canada and few Canadians in America.

(Okay, I realize it is more complicated than that, and NAFTA is in there somewhere too, but you get my point. Political relations are at the crux of this).

Bureaucracy aside, you have to admit its a bit odd to see almost no American seasonal workers in Whistler. I mean, come on, everyone else is here, and we live right across that border. I can get home in less than a day without even having to take a plane or cross any major bodies of water. Man, I can even stand in America and hold hands with someone in Canada. We can hang out all day under the Peace Arch in Surrey and Blaine and talk about how we are "children of a common mother" and "brethren dwelling together in unity".

But good fences make good neighbours right? Who cares about what makes sense when international relations are involved. Canada and the U.S. are the world’s largest trading partners, we share the longest boarder, and we are considered to have one of the most successful international relationships in the modern world.

So let’s keep that 49th parallel line thick and stick to our own sides, with an emphasis on no mixing and no mingling. Let’s make sure young Canadians can’t work in the United States and young Americans can’t work in Canada. And we can all be one happy North American family.