What do you do when the opportunity to live and work in another country turns into becoming a Permanent Resident in Canada? You take it.
My response to people who asked me why I left the UK to move to Canada sometimes stumps people. It’s possible that it’s too short. I say “why not?”. Should I have stayed in London? I could have used my UK passport more to see the rest of the European continent. True, but maybe I can still do that in the future. I’ll always keep my UK Passport but at the same time why not try and add another Passport to the collection? A significant step towards doing this is becoming a Permanent Resident (PR).
By no means is this an easy thing. Leaving the UK and becoming a Permanent Resident in Canada means giving some things up to gain others. Leaving family, friends and London were the things that mattered most to me. One common phrase an expat will utter is “it’s not like at home”. I’ve said it myself but not without querying the what that actually means. Consider it my drive and passion to make the most out of my time here and not necessarily worry about why things aren’t like they are at home. Of course it is not going to be like home. I’m in another country! Plainly speaking, Vancouver is not the furthest geographically and culturally speaking from life in the UK. There are a huge amount of differences though. One of the biggest things I get in the trade off is repositioning myself to see the other side of the world and building my career in what is currently the epicentre of the trade I work in. I also feel enabled to explore the different parts of North, Central and South America by relocating to Vancouver.
I fall into the growing group of people who have a specialist skill that makes it feasible to get a Work Permit in Canada. The company I worked for had arranged this but with only three weeks before I left almost lost this opportunity due to an administration error. They told me the position was no longer available and that the move was over. As I am from the UK I would have been able to apply for a working holiday visa through a reciprocal exchange between the UK and Canadian Government. This would have lead me down a route that would have made life a lot more difficult. It would have meant spending more time applying for this visa and adding huge delays. There are only a few thousand applications granted per year. At that time of year I would have missed the cut off point for new applications. At 29 this would have left me one year to get the application completed and approved.
To have the rug pulled from under your feet with so much to lose is a crushing experience.
I had rented out my apartment, sold belongings, put other things into storage and packed the remainder of my life into a few bags. I didn’t know what to do. I told HR that I’d probably leave the company after such an error. I had to start asking friends if I could crash on their sofa for a few weeks until I could get my life back together. Thankfully the error was recognised. I had voicemails and text message from the crew in Vancouver the next day explaining that I was still needed and the move was on! I am thankful the situation was fixed and I was able to start my new life in Canada with a job on arrival. I know this isn’t a privilege everyone has when they come over and it makes a huge difference having a reliable source of income and security from day one.
We can almost fast forward a year from December 2012 to the end of 2013 and start of 2014. A lot has happened in that time. I’ve been able to have some incredible experiences, but for this article we’re focussing on PR. After one year I was entitled to start my application. In addition to waiting one year I had to work a minimum amount of hours to meet the requirement. Since I work in Visual Effect for Feature Films; this was not a problem. I can end up working long hours, especially towards the end of the project when the deadline is close.
I started my application January 2014 and submitted it later in April. There are a few reasons it took this long. There is a lot of paperwork and it has to be filled in with detail and precision. Applications can be sent back with no refund given if they do not meet the criteria or are found to be inaccurate. The level of detail that has to be included can be daunting. The forms ask that you state every country you have visited since the age of 18 years old, or the last 10 years. I have had numerous trips around Europe and spent 7 months between Australia and South East Asia. I had also made several trips to the USA and a trip home to the UK since moving to Vancouver that have to be included in the list. I had to fill in additional forms as there weren’t enough boxes on the main form to accommodate my travels. Similar information on where I have lived, studied and worked was also required. The most helpful sources of information was, of course, my passport but Facebook and filtering through email history became incredibly helpful in piecing together accurately where I had been and when.
The next stage can be pricey, but is optional. My advice would be to get a Lawyer to check your documents. There are immigration Lawyers who specialise in dealing with expats and, albeit, makes the process more expensive but definitely makes the application faster and less stressful. The Lawyer I worked with was invaluable to me. She helped me get my application out faster and was able to answer all the varied and difficult questions I had relating to personal details and the industry I work in.
She offered three levels of service depending on how much you require her to do. Seeing as I’d done most of it myself I didn’t need to use the most expensive option. Since submitting the application she has been there to help me at every point until I got confirmation that I am now a Permanent Resident in Canada. You can also chose to hire a Lawyer to only check your forms which will be cheaper. I would advise going for the next step up. The price for only checking your documents and dealing with phone and email correspondence isn’t that much cheaper than the mid level price. The basic option would have come to around $600-$700. The service I got also covered all emails, phone calls and even couriers to send and receive documents between us securely. My Lawyer has been at every step and even offered advice on friend’s applications too.
Don’t let the price of becoming a Permanent Resident in Canada put you off!
It’s worth asking around to see if the HR team at your workplace can help. They might have a dedicated person at your company to help with PR that can save you money. There are plenty of FAQs and forums online too. Vancouver has many expats who have gone through the PR process. Most people will be able to answer your questions or at least point you in the right direction. As usual, the Internet is a great resource. The only downside is that the advice online may not fit your personal circumstances. Looking plainly at the situation; effort versus cost factor was an easy equation to figure out. This also helped me beat the deadline before the application process changed. Without further delay I decided to start work at becoming a Permanent Resident in Canada as quickly as I could.
The rules and application process have changed from January 2015 and there is a huge backlog of applicants from the year before that weren’t processed. I know several people who have had their application from 2014 returned unopened. I won’t repeat the kind of language they used to vent their frustration. The new application process may not have been as smooth for current applicants as it has been for people during previous schemes. Ask someone who applied 5 years ago and they will tell you their application took around 3 years to complete. The government has changed the process several times in recent years and sets limits of how many types of particular application that are accepted. Canada relies on a steady flow of immigrants but occasionally they need to tinker with the flow of how many applications succeed to match realistic growth in the country. Figures between 1989 and 2013 show a consistently increasing range from 190,000 to around 250,000 PR applications per year across all economic classes. A quarter of a million people per year is still a lot, even for the second largest country in the world. The annual report for 2015 shows that CIC are expecting a bumper year for 2015 with expectations being set between 260,000 and 285,000 compared to 280,000 in 2010 when Canada hosted the Winter Olympics.
The final piece of the puzzle was completed when we drove to the border to do a Flagpole run. An applicant must leave the country and re enter with their new paperwork. This process involves driving to the USA border and immediately doing a U-turn and driving back to the Canadian border. My paper work is processed, work permit taken from my passport and I am handed a Canadian Flag. It takes approximately 10 weeks for the PR Card to be delivered in the mail from that point. You can still travel on with the Certificate of Permanent Residence if you really need to but it is suggested that you stay in Canada until you receive the card. This card means that I can change my Social Insurance number to get more social benefits that Canadian’s enjoy and not be treated like a visitor anymore.
If you look at top lists of places to live, for what it’s worth, Canada and Vancouver are usually in the top five of these lists. We have the beautiful surroundings and a laid back quality of life where we can still manage a healthy lifestyle and a busy career. There are so many other aspects that make life in Vancouver attractive. I will get into those in other articles. Canada is a country of extremes in many senses, and I’ve only yet to witness one corner of this great nation. It takes longer to get from Vancouver to Montreal than most internal European flights that it must feel like another country when you arrive. Maybe that’s why Quèbec’s PR forms are different?! From extreme geographical and weather conditions to exploring the Melting Pot of people and cultures Canada is built on; becoming a Permanent Resident in Canada plays a central role in furthering this story.