Moving to Canada

Last changed $Date: 2004/11/09 04:53:37 $

We are US citizens preparing to move permanently to Canada. Permanent residence does not mean we have to give up our US citizenship, it simply means that we would have the permanent right to live and work in Canada, similar to a green card in the US. At the moment, our focus is on Nova Scotia.

The process of applying for and receiving an immigration visa took almost three years. Our marriage must have slowed it down by a little, but still, two years for Skilled Worker (our immigration class) seems the norm. The gory details about how to apply are on the web site of the Canadian immigration service—the CIC. Take their time estimates (months) with a grain of salt.

John got the ball rolling in late 2001 by collecting letters from past and present employers, getting special photos of himself, having his fingerprints taken at the local police station, and sending the fingerprints with a small fee to the FBI in order to get proof that he has no criminal record. The FBI worked remarkably quickly given the time frame (post-9/11), and John mailed his application to the Canadian consulate in Buffalo, NY, on January 30, 2002. He did not hear a peep back until May 13, at which point he received a receipt for the processing fee and instructions to wait another thirty weeks for the next interesting thing to happen.

The immigration office is always very busy and warns applicants not to inquire about their application status. Fair enough. The web site at least shows you when a change of address goes through. (John has moved twice within the US since applying.)

John traveled to Philadelphia to take the official French test on October 19, 2002. By his own reckoning, his score earned him six points on the scale that the immigration office uses for applicants. Every little bit helps! He faxed his scores to the immigration office in Buffalo on January 8, 2003.

On December 17, 2002, John hired a Canadian law firm specializing in employment searches for prospective immigrants. For a fee, the firm arranges a two-week tour filled with job interviews in the applicant's chosen city. Pre-arranged employment would count for a big ten points. Earlier, in June, the firm had given John an optimistic free initial assessment. However, the economy had worsened, and the answer came back in February:

Unfortunately, you are not eligible [for] Full Service Employment Program at this time. Employers gave us positive feedback on your skills and experience, but the demand for your skills is low in both Vancouver and Toronto and employers are not willing to sponsor a work permit. We recommend that you proceed with the job search after the job market has improved and you have received your Canadian Permanent Resident visa. After you obtain your immigration visa, please inquire with us to determine if the demand has improved sufficiently to facilitate interview attainment.

Well, hmm, now that we have our immigration visas, we might just save some money and do the job search ourselves, thank you. Besides, John thinks a career shift towards network administration might be wise.

The thirty weeks forecast by CIC turned into forty-seven, and the next letter from Buffalo arrived about April 9, 2003. It stated that processing could probably be completed without a personal interview, which seemed like good news, but may simply mean that the office is too busy to conduct many interviews. The letter requested another FBI report (okay, whatever) and an updated letter of reference from John's current employer. Immigration wanted the reference letter to include the probability of continued employment. John's company does not answer such questions about its employees, so he sent along copies of a pay stub showing a bonus and other evidence of employability. This seems to have satisfied the immigration office.

The letter included a form relating to the medical exam requirement but warned: Please do not complete your medicals until 6 months from the date of this letter. If you complete your medicals too soon, you may be required to re-do them due to their expiration. By this we could infer that the office expected to finish the process in the following 18 months, since it is stated elsewhere that medical exam results are good for 12.

By the time John collected the new list of required documents, we had decided to marry and immigrate together. Marriage would require John to amend the application. Because of Heather's college degree, it also added four points to our score. (Canadian immigration considers married couples more adaptable—and therefore desirable as residents—than singles.) We spent $100 on a phone consultation with an immigration lawyer before formulating our letter to the Buffalo office.

The immigration office sends applicants form letters with here and there a box checked or a terse message scrawled, and it is up to the applicants to consult one another and their lawyers to interpret the information and formulate a response, knowing that it will arrive in a pile with hundreds of other applicants' letters on the desk of a very busy clerk or officer. We hope whoever reads our letters does so after a good night's sleep and not in a bad mood.

In John's letter dated June 3, 2003, he explained about his probability of continued employment and our engagement. At that time, the pass mark was 75 points, and John estimated that the marriage would bring our score from 73 to 77. (By the way, that is not why we got married!) On the lawyer's advice, John added this request to the letter: In case you are considering denying my application because of a low adaptability score, I hope that you will instead hold it in abeyance until then. It may have worked, because we did not hear anything back until after we were married.

The application fee, forms, fingerprints, FBI report, letters from past employers, all that good stuff again, this time for Heather. Ah, what a wondrous thing is love! The rules had tightened a bit, and Heather's employer letters required notarization. We sent it all in, along with a marriage certificate, by certified mail on November 28, 2003. We made a mistake by neglecting to write N/A in certain blanks on the form, so the application was returned. Well, if you were an immigration office, you would want a pretty clear answer to questions like what countries' armed forces your immigrants had served in, even if the answer were none. We fixed the application form and resent it on February 12, 2004.

The next step was the medical exams. When the immigration office returned Heather's application form as incomplete, it included a medical form for her and a list of doctors who could examine us. (Canada apparently has arrangements with doctors all over the world who do these exams.) But the letter did not actually tell us we should get examined, and an earlier letter had warned John not to do it too soon. We mulled over whether to wait for instructions or choose a doctor and set up an appointment. We wrote a quick note (attached to a change of address request) expressing uncertainty and saying that we would proceed with exams if we did not hear back in one month. One month is the blink of an eye in immigration time, and we received nothing. We were examined in New York on May 14, 2004 and got a letter from Ottawa dated June 25 requesting additional information, which we collected and provided in late July. We were back to the waiting game.

Our next instructions came on September 22, 2004. The Buffalo office wanted us to pay Heather's Right of Permanent Residence Fee (RPRF). This is one of two fees payable by each applicant to the immigration office. (Other fees include for the fingerprints, FBI report, medical exam, postage, photographs, etc.) John had paid his RPRF earlier, when the currency exchange rate had favored the US dollar. The request for Heather's fee included a receipt for John's with the amount highlighted. Since we were paying US dollars, and the fee was now higher due to the exchange rate, we were not quite sure whether the earlier payment covered John's fee or the office meant to point out the difference by highlighting the amount. Trivial things like this become big, or at least medium-sized, worries when one can't just ask for clarification. To avoid a possible delay, we sent two money orders, one with Heather's fee and one with the difference in John's, on September 25. The office immediately returned the smaller money order with a scribbled note that it was not required.

By this time, things were moving along quickly. A letter from the Buffalo office, dated October 7, 2004, requested our passports (for visa issuance) and new photos of ourselves. This was our clearest indication yet that we were going to be accepted. We sent the passports and photos by Express Mail with a self-addressed, prepaid Express Mail envelope on October 15. Passports, visas, and a couple of important-looking documents labeled Confirmation of Permanent Residence arrived on November 1, 2004. We now have the right to enter Canada for good at any time before May 14, 2005.

We have spent the past three years mostly waiting for word from the immigration office, and occasionally scurrying around collecting documents. Our visas come as quite a relief! Now we can finally get down to the business of planning a move and our future up north. Ironically, this happens at a time when several news sites have articles about Americans thinking of moving to Canada because of President Bush's reelection. Judging by the amount of work involved, we don't think huge numbers will make it, but good luck to any who try!