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Kitti Toris at home in Okotoks, Alberta, Dec. 13, 2019.Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

Last summer, Canadian immigration officials asked Kitti Toris for some medical information. That bureaucratic letter was enough for the Hungarian teenager’s brother-in-law to crack open a bottle of Champagne.

Ms. Toris came to Canada in 2016, and lives with her sister and brother-in-law in Okotoks, one of Calgary’s bedroom communities. A year ago, Ottawa ordered her to leave the country. Her visitor visa had expired, and the government rejected her applications for temporary residency and a study permit. She would have to leave, even though an application for permanent residency was still in the works.

But Ms. Toris, who turns 18 next Wednesday, said she is estranged from her mother in Hungary and would have nowhere to go if she returned there. She has lived with her sister and brother-in-law – Viktoria and Laszlo Radi – since she was 6. Ms. Toris defied the order, hoping her application for permanent residency would be approved. Then, in July, the Canadian government asked for medical information, a hint that her bid for permanent residency would succeed.

“It was nice to be celebrating,” Ms. Toris said. “But I still didn’t have the piece of paper in my hand.”

The COVID-19 pandemic added an extra layer of anxiety for Ms. Toris, because she was in Canada without status. If she needed medical attention, the family said they would have had to pay the expenses, for example. Ms. Toris opted to complete Grade 12 online rather than in-person with her classmates at Holy Trinity Academy in Okotoks this year to reduce the possibility of infection.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in November sent Ms. Toris another letter, declaring her a permanent resident. She cried joyful tears.

“I wasn’t confident until I got it,” she said.

Ms. Toris’s sister and brother-in-law are her legal guardians in Canada and Hungary, but never formally adopted her. That meant Mr. Radi, who is a Canadian citizen, could not sponsor her for permanent residency as a family member, as he did for Ms. Radi. However, the November letter categorized Ms. Toris as “FC5″ – an orphaned brother, sister, nephew, niece or grandchild, even though she is not technically an orphan.

Ms. Toris’s family said they are unsure why Canada approved her permanent residency application, which was making its way through the bureaucracy when Ottawa rejected her other applications. The family believes pressure on the federal government from John Barlow, their member of Parliament, and the community, bolstered Ms. Toris’s effort.

Immigration experts say Ms. Toris’s case is an example of the flexibility available in Canada’s system. The government, for example, did not force someone on the verge of adulthood to go through an expensive and lengthy adoption process.

“I’m really pleased that the government did what was the reasonable, practical resolution,” said Evelyn Ackah, the founder of Ackah Business Immigration Law in Calgary. “They looked at the end result.”

Sharry Aiken, a law professor and immigration expert at Queen’s University, said that while the outcome appears sensible, the process is flawed.

“It is really pretty crazy that in this instance, there was a risk of a family unit being ruptured, clearly contrary to the best interest of the child,” she said, noting the case should have been resolved a year ago.

“It is appalling that it took a full year to sort something like this out, leaving her in limbo.”

Ms. Toris now wants to become a Canadian citizen. She plans to go to university, but is not sure what she wants to study.

“I’ve got all my life to figure it out,” she said.

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