CFL quarterback in off-field battle for Canadian citizenship
Michael Shulman, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Saturday, April 4, 2015 5:37PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, April 5, 2015 12:02PM EDT
Henry Burris spent the past 15 seasons in the CFL fighting off defenders en route to becoming the league's third-most prolific passer in history. But now the quarterback is locked in a battle off the gridiron to acquire Canadian citizenship.
Burris, 39, was born in Spiro, Okla., and moved full-time to Calgary 10 years ago. Burris currently lines up behind the centre on the Ottawa RedBlacks, and inked a three-year deal to play in the nation's capital in 2014.
With just two years left on his deal, the aging pivot is now considering his life after football; a life that he hopes to continue living in Canada.
"We're pretty much Canadian now, (I've been) living here since 2005, around the clock, 24/7," Burris told CTV Ottawa.
Despite his lengthy and highly successful career in the CFL, and more than a decade residing in Canada, Burris has been denied permanent residency, and could be kicked out the country next year when his work permit expires. Permanent residency is required before obtaining Canadian citizenship.
"This is home for us now, we're just trying to do whatever we can to make sure hopefully it doesn't get taken away," Burris told CTV News.
"I'm not speaking as a CFL player, I'm speaking as a Canadian resident," he added.
The two-time Grey Cup champion has applied for citizenship unsuccessfully several times. Under a recent overhaul to Canada's immigration policy by the Harper government in January, Burris doesn't meet the standards required to live in the country permanently.
His job as a professional football player is considered part-time work, partly because the CFL season lasts six months, from June to November.
"Our job doesn’t qualify as a full-time occupation, since it's not year-round, (or) nine to five, but trust me due to the fact of what we do on and off the fields, it's more than just a full-time job," Burris said.
The new rules, called the Express Entry program, use a mostly computerized points process that evaluates immigrants based on skill and demand. But Toronto-based immigration lawyer Joel Sandaluk says there are flaws in the system, which allow cases like Burris's to slip through the cracks.
"The idea behind it was to pick the best and brightest immigrants, but frankly, when a CFL quarterback isn't among those individuals it really tells you a lot about (how) the system functions – or fails to," Sandaluk said.
Burris has grown increasingly disenchanted as he has struggled to acquire residency over the past three years. In process, he says that he has spent thousands of dollars working with an immigration lawyer.
"To spend that type of money and still be at square one was definitely frustrating. And I don't if anyone should have to go to the point where they break the bank just to try to become a citizen somewhere -- because your proven worthiness is the work that you do day in and day out, as a far as your job and also in the community," Burris said.
The veteran quarterback also runs The Burris Foundation, which raises money for children's charities in the Calgary area.
Burris says that he is not looking for preferential treatment, but just wants a fair shot.
A spokesman for Canada's immigration minister, Chris Alexander, told CTV News on Saturday that they plan to give his case another look.
The CFL's Most Outstanding Player in 2010 is heading into his second season with the RedBlacks; he threw for 3,728 yards with 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions last season.
Burris went undrafted out of Temple University, and joined the CFL in 1998.
He has thrown for 55,254 yards over his career, trailing only Hall of Famer Damon Allen and Montreal Alouettes' great Anthony Calvillo.
His 335 career touchdowns also place him third in league history.