How do I move to Canada?
October 7, 2011 7:39 AM   Subscribe

I am a US citizen. I would like to move to Canada, where my Canadian girlfriend lives and works. My company here in the US is willing to let me telecommute. What are the legalities involved here?

I've looked on the Citizenship and Immigrations Canada website, and I haven't found any information that could apply for me. I know I'm allowed to stay in Canada for six months as a temporary resident, since I'm a US citizen, but can this be extended?

I know I can apply to change my status from a temporary resident to someone with a work permit, but can I also apply for a permanent residency from within Canada?

Would it be easier to just go the regular work permit route and find a job in Canada rather than retain the job I have now?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is one of those questions where wrong answers can hurt you. Contact your local(ish) Canadian consulate and/or Citizenship & Immigration Canada to speak with an actual person.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:05 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

You're looking at applying as a skilled worker. You get an extra 10 points if you have a job lined up that's willing - that 10 points, along with the particular field you're in can pretty much make/break your application. If you're planning to continue your job in the states while telecommuting, that will seriously hinder applying as a skilled worker. Take the self-points test, and see if you have enough; and then consider the extra points for having a job lined up.

The easiest (albeit not necessarily the fastest) method is family sponsorship. Marry your girlfriend, and have her sponsor you. However, until you're ready for marriage (and she's willing to guarantee that if you collect EI or similar benefits she'll pay it), this might not be an option. However I did this in 2005-2006. I got a work permit about 6 months after my application, and I got my Permanent Resident card about 5 months after that. Easiest way to immigrate to Canada.

Plus, you're allowed to continue to reside in Canada while this is underway (even after the 6 months implicit travel visa (and if you're in the country illegally for having over stayed the 6 month visa, then get married and apply, you're allowed to stay)). Failing that, a Canadian cousin/uncle/aunt can sponsor you. You have plenty of forms to fill out, but once you're married, assuming the government doesn't think it's a sham, it's mostly a long drawn out rubber stamp and some fees. You can get your medical exam done in Canada, and I never had to enter the states for my application or getting my PR card (I was once denied entry into Canada before we were married, so this was a concern). Note; while your application is under way you won't be deported for overstaying a visa; however they won't guarantee entry to Canada, so it's best to plan for 0 border crossings during this time.

Consider taking your 6 months auto-travel visa to live with her, and towards the end of the 6 months consider if you want to pop the question. Best idea is to let her in on this from the start.

Obviously, I'm not a lawyer, and since 2006 I've not followed immigration. But skilled worker is a large headache - I'll assume you don't have 100k+ to go in as an investor, which leaves family sponsorship as Canada's not big on giving US citizen's refugee status.
posted by nobeagle at 8:13 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a UK citizen, but found myself in a similar situation a few years ago. I was working remotely for UK companies whilst staying in Canada as a tourist (taking care not to stay for stretches of more than six months.) Since I was not paid by any Canadian entity, I did not need Social Insurance numbers or residency etc. (however the downside is that you will not have any medical coverage).

I applied for permanent residency whilst living in Canada - my girlfriend sponsored me as a common-law partner. It was long - two years - and back then it was much slower to apply from within the country as compared to applying when living outside Canada. During that time I could not work for a Canadian company, nor - officially - could I even leave Canada at any point. It's a frustrating process.

On the work permit front, I found that essentially you have to prove that you're not taking away jobs from Canadians. There may be differences as a US citizen - eg NAFTA-related work permits or exceptions.

Do speak to CIC, however. If you're lucky you'll find someone helpful on the end of the phone. If you find you have a complex situtation a consultation wil an immigration lawyer can be useful.
posted by leebree at 8:13 AM on October 7, 2011

i'm actively in this process right now. as stated your only real option besides marriage to the cancuck is skilled worker. having a job lined up is still a nice point chunk but there is a quick quiz to see where you fall....

2 things have happened though: 1. a new program called "come to canada" has launched which makes the information a little more pallatable and obtainable (thats the good news as it took me a year just to wade through paperwork prior to this) and 2. (the bad news) they have severely imposed limits to skilled worker class. here are some relevant links:

come to canada site

the points quiz to see where you fall

these independent crown corp guys can help

there is another group which i am failing to remember right now. anyway, feel free to me-mail me any can exchange personal emails, i'm happy to help.

good luck becoming a fellow ex-pat ya hoser.
posted by chasles at 8:45 AM on October 7, 2011

If you want to be sponsored as a family member, you have basically two options:
  • Marry her.
  • Live with her "in a conjugal relationship for at least one year in a continuous 12-month period that [is] not interrupted" and be able to prove it.
(Note that if you enter into this relationship primarily for the purposes of gaining status in Canada, it's considered a marriage/relationship of convenience, you are not a member of the family class, and can't be sponsored.)

You should also be aware that you can apply as though you are outside Canada. For Americans, this is generally faster, and preserves your ability to travel outside of Canada (though not necessarily to re-enter as a visitor) and your right of appeal if you're denied.

Also note that a temporary work permit generally does not allow you to sign up for the provincial health-insurance plan.

If there are any complications in your case (criminal record, visa denials in Canada or elsewhere), it couldn't hurt to have at least a brief consultation with an attorney.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:52 AM on October 7, 2011

Road to Canada is a fantastic source of information for questions like this.
posted by sonofdust at 8:58 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Let's be real, and I am speaking from actual experience of helping friends through the immigration process, having my ex-fiance (we split up) visit me for years at a time, and from travelling across the US-Canadian border dozens of times per year for the last 20 years.

Skilled worker application will take years. Forget it.

You should not marry her unless you are sure you are doing it for the right reasons, because you will have to back up those reasons with a mountain of documentation (timestamped emails between each other, chronologically organized photos of your life together, etc). That documentation is hard to fake. But if you do get married, that is the easiest route by far to immigrate.

If you have a specific job lined up with an employer that's willing to apply for a visa for you, things become easy. But you need to be there in person to go for job interviews in order to find that job. Don't worry about the company having to "prove" that they need you instead of a Canadian...if they want you they can get their lawyer draft up the usual boilerplate stuff. Worry about getting them to wanting to employ you, especially in this economy.

So this thing about the 6-month stay -- it gets renewed automatically any time you leave and come back, via any point of entry. So just take a bus across the border, fill up your tank with cheap(er) gas, and come back. Obviously, don't do it exactly every 6-months, because then they'll be on to you. Don't drive back in a car with Canadian license plates!!!

This is the important part: when you enter Canada, say you are visiting your girlfriend for a couple of weeks. So what if you intend to stay longer? They don't need to be told that...your plans legitimately "changed". Do NOT say you will be working in NOT say you will be telecommuting...if the topic of work comes up at all, say you work in the United States (which is true). This is what they are most concerned about -- you performing work illegally under a tourist visa, and stealing work from Canadians.

So bide your time "visiting" your girlfriend as a telecommuting tourist until you find a job in Canada or you get hitched.
posted by wutangclan at 9:20 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

fill up your tank with cheap(er) gas

I wrote that when I had first suggested driving across, but edited that to taking the bus. Don't drive across and back in a Canadian-registered car!
posted by wutangclan at 9:23 AM on October 7, 2011

One more thing -- if you fall under one of the professions listed in NAFTA Appendix 1603.D.1, you automatically receive a work permit as soon as you find a job in Canada. The company doesn't have to do very much for you at all (way, way less paperwork), and you should mention this in your job interviews to make you more employable.
posted by wutangclan at 9:35 AM on October 7, 2011

>I know I'm allowed to stay in Canada for six months as a temporary resident,

Could you elaborate on this? AFAIK, you are entitled to remain in Canada as a "visitor" (ie, as a tourist), and this is very different than being a "resident".

In Canada, residency is typically established after remaining in the country for more than six months. You need to be a student or have some sort of work permit.

(I'm speaking as someone who is married to a landed immigrant - I prepared the application - and as someone who has moved in and out of the country several times, and has had to establish residency each time I returned).

I don't think the Canadian government really cares all that much if you telecommute to your job in the States. I think your big challenge will come from the US side - will your drivers license expire? What are you going to do for health insurance (you qualify for provincial health coverage *after* six months).

One thing you could do is telecommute, and maintain residency in the States by having mail sent to your parents' house, and linking your drivers license to your parents' house.

Ideally, wherever you decide to maintain residency in the States is where your employer is.

Once in Canada, just be sure to travel back into the States once every couple of months. Avoid establishing any sign of a residency in Canada - don't have mail sent to where you are living, do not put any utilities - including phones - in your name.

In short, if you can maintain the facade of residency in the States, and don't overstay your 6 month visitor status, you will be fine.

You can then use that six months to find a job (BC has something called the Provincial Nominee Program that fast-tracks workers) and get a actual "residency" status.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:44 PM on October 7, 2011

wutangclan nails it.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:45 PM on October 7, 2011

you qualify for provincial health coverage *after* six months

Tourists don't qualify, ever, for provincial health coverage in Ontario.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 2:05 PM on October 7, 2011

>>I know I'm allowed to stay in Canada for six months as a temporary resident,

>Could you elaborate on this? AFAIK, you are entitled to remain in Canada as a "visitor" (ie, as a tourist), and this is very different than being a "resident".

That is the all-encompassing bureaucrat's term for what you and I call a tourist, visitor, etc.
posted by wutangclan at 4:41 PM on October 7, 2011

I did this almost eleven years ago. The mister and I got married because it was the easiest route (we knew we wanted to get married eventually, this just sped up the time-frame).

I applied for and got a visitor's record. I applied for and got a Social Insurance Number (SIN). I applied for and got a worker's permit (there was nothing in the process about taking jobs away from Canadians, but that may have changed). I applied for and got (three years later) Landed Immigrant status. There is a lot of information you have to provide, some of it goes back 10 years. Also for Landed Immigration I had to get DMV records, a physical (you must use one of the govt. doctors from a list), I had to get a background check from the state I last lived in and, I think, a couple more things.

Every application to the Canadian government costs money, plus you have to pay for the physical out of your own money. I don't think any of the US records I needed cost anything.

I also had to get my car inspected which, yes, cost money. If anything has to be done to make it okay to own in Canada, you have to pay out of pocket.

Your spouse (should you get married and s/he is your sponsor) will have to sign an affidavit that s/he will support you for ten years.

If I recall correctly, it cost about $3,000 overall.
posted by deborah at 5:39 PM on October 7, 2011

I did this almost eleven years ago.

Much has changed in that time:
  • tourists/visitors don't get SINs
  • you don't need DMV records to immigrate (though you may need to get paper copies if you exchange your driver's license and the state where you move from doesn't make its records available electronically to your destination province)
  • the FBI background check costs $18
  • most of the state background checks cost money
  • your spouse signs a pledge to support you for three years
  • the Right of Permanent Residence Fee was cut by $485 in 2006
The background information goes back ten years or since you were 18, whichever is longer. You will need to remember (or dig up records about) what you were doing each month since that time.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:04 PM on October 7, 2011

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