How can a US citizen get a year-long visa in Canada?
June 2, 2006 7:37 AM   Subscribe

Canadian Visa Questions: How can a USA citizen who is engaged to a Canadian citizen live for around a year in Canada prior to the marriage?

My sister is currently engaged to a Canadian citizen who lives in Toronto. They're planning to get married in a bit more than a year, and my sister would like to live in Toronto with her fiancee for that time to help with the wedding planning.
Unfortunately, the visitor's visa that a US citizen gets when s/he enters Canada is only good for 6 months, and since she's planning on becoming a Canadian citizen once her marriage occurs, she'd obviously like to avoid pissing off the Canadian immigration service.

Does anyone know of a way to get an extended visitor's visa, or if my sister should be looking into a different kind of visa I'm unaware of?
posted by Inkoate to Law & Government (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know, but the Canadian Immigration people are pretty helpful. Call them. Also talk to the Government of Ontario, as there are sometimes provincial programs that people can access.

She may also be able to simply leave and then come back again for another six months. But ask them first. IANAL etc.
posted by joannemerriam at 7:52 AM on June 2, 2006

The visitor visa is probably renewable if she simply goes back to the US for a day and renews it. I know it works that way with the one-year TN-class work visas; before they run out you go back and get a new one on your return.

Finally, if she's willing to skirt the law:

Q7: I have overstayed my visa or visitor record. Can I apply for permanent residence in the spouse or common-law partner in Canada class?

Yes. If your temporary resident visa or visitor record has expired, and you are still in Canada, you can apply to become a permanent resident under the s pouse or common-law partner in Canada class.

From CIC. Note that this applies to common-law as well as married spouses, so they only have to live together for a year for her to qualify for this. It looks like you're technically breaking immigration law, but that it doesn't stop you from immigrating.

Also, I believe she would have to get landed immigrant status first and then become a citizen second, much like you have to get a green card first in the US.

IANAL and certainly a real immigration lawyer can give you real answers to these questions in a few minutes.
posted by GuyZero at 7:55 AM on June 2, 2006

One very simple solution would be to stay for 6 months and then exit and re-enter Canada with a brand new 6 month visitor's visa.

Of course, this won't solve the right to work problem.

However, I know Europeans who have moved to Canada on a visitor's visa then got a job where the employer was willing to go through the HRDC (Human Resources Development Canada) legal work to employ them which is essentially proving that no qualified Canadian is available to do the job. Eventually, you become a permanent resident and gain the right to work for any employer without having to do such silly procedures.

I'm sure there are lots of other types of visas that she can get depending on the rarity of skills. Have you searched the Government of Canada's website for different types of NAFTA visas?
posted by FastGorilla at 7:56 AM on June 2, 2006

Response by poster: My understanding from what I've heard is that the 6 month visa is for 6 months within a 12 month period. I'm not sure that if she leaves and attempts to reenter the next day, that they will let her in. I'm not sure, though.

I will suggest that she try to find an immigration lawyer as well.
posted by Inkoate at 8:05 AM on June 2, 2006

Best answer: Citizenship and Immigration Canada can probably help you with this. They've got info on their web page about renewing visas, and it doesn't strike me as a hugely onerous process. Info is here (re: applications to extend a visa)
posted by gwenzel at 8:22 AM on June 2, 2006

The HRDC thing for the temporary worker visa is not really that big of a deal for the employer; they just have to wait a bit before you can start. Basically you need a letter from them saying that they coulud not find a qualified Canadian for the job, and they would like to hire you. Take this to HRDC desk (in the same office where you apply for the worker visa IIRC) and hope they agree. Thw worker visa is good for one year and is renewable, and you can apply for a permanent resident visa then. Three years later, you can get citizenship. All done!
posted by transient at 8:24 AM on June 2, 2006

A TN visa is dead easy to get (if she has a university degree and is qualified for a profession on the TN list). She needs a job offer first. She can apply at the port-of-entry with a passport, job offer, university transcript, and resume, and enter Canada with a visa the same day.

I don't think the HRDC thing is required for TN, as a similar labo[u]r certification process is certainly not applicable when applying for TN visa to work in the US. My experience with a TN visa is as a Canadian working in the US. Because it is NAFTA, I assume the procedure going northbound is the same as the procedure going southbound, but of course you should investigate more thoroughly.

Keep in mind that a TN is a temporary visa, and is not intended for those seeking permanent residence. Thus, she must exit the country before getting the wife visa status (whatever that is). And when applying for the visa, she should state that she intends to stay in the country for the duration of the job and will leave Canada when the job is done. And she should have an address (like her parents' house) in the US where she can stay. TN visas are for a one year period but they are renewable indefinitely. In the US, you can renew a TN visa without leaving the country (I left and came back anyway).
posted by crazycanuck at 8:38 AM on June 2, 2006

Response by poster: gwenzel, thanks for that link. An extension to the tourist visa seems like exactly what she ought to be looking for.

I'll also have her check out the TN visa, if she's on the list. (She's just graduated from undergrad and is certified to teach).
posted by Inkoate at 8:48 AM on June 2, 2006

If your sister wants to be certain of avoiding the ire of Immigration Canada, the path seems simple:

(1) Mr. Canada files immigration paperwork for her under the family class as a fiancee.
(2) She lands
(3) They get legally married and start planning the "church" wedding.

Having separate legal and church/big-party weddings is common with international marriages.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:18 AM on June 2, 2006

Your sister should be careful about entering on a tourist visa and extending it when her intent is not to be a tourist but to immigrate to Canada. Misrepresenting your intentions can piss off immigration agencies.

I don't know how fussy Immigration Canada is about this sort of thing. It pisses the holy hell out of US ICE/BCIS.

Unless of course they're planning on moving to the US. In which case, they really want to get married in the US (fiancee visas are quicker and easier than dealing with the spousal process, at least from Canada), and they need to start the paperwork with US BCIS like a month ago.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:23 AM on June 2, 2006

Inkoate, if she's a new teacher she might be fucked. She should see what it would take to get certified to teach in Ontario. Also, I think most teachers are hired first as on-call or substitutes (which is not visa-worthy) and then they go part-time from there.

If I were her, I'd investigate masters programs at one of Toronto's fine universities. Students get visas. She can get a visitor's visa until the program starts.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:32 AM on June 2, 2006

doh, part-time should read full-time above
posted by crazycanuck at 9:33 AM on June 2, 2006

Response by poster: ROU: No, they're planning on living in Canada. And yes, I'm fully aware of the possibility of pissing off Immigration Canada. I've warned my sister about that.
posted by Inkoate at 9:43 AM on June 2, 2006

Best answer: It is not necessary to have a visa to visit Canada from the United States. They will issue you a document at the border good for up to six months if you say you're staying that long; you can indefinitely renew this document by mail for a $75 fee. The renewal can be for a long time - more than a year, if you say you're staying that long (and you should).

So she can stay as long as she likes, with occasional payment of a $75 fee. You don't have to cross the border repeatedly. However, she should not engage in work for pay while in a visitor status.

She can apply for permanent residency from either inside Canada or outside Canada. Both processes take a long time and are a pain in the wazoo. Since she's planning to be in Canada, she should use the inside Canada application process. This will take just about a year to get permanent residency, and I don't know how they handle applying prior to actual marriage, but you should ask, because it will suck to have to wait until they're actually married. She can also apply (yet another form and fee) for a work permit, to enable her to legally work in Canada prior to getting permanent residency.

[Reading the answers above: the U.S. gets annoyed when visitors apply to immigrate. Canada does not. It is not against the rules at all, you just have to remain in a valid visitor status while applying to become a permanent resident.]

And finally, once Immigration Canada has gotten your permanent residency application and sent you a letter saying your physical exam was acceptable, you can call them and ask them for ANOTHER letter which you can take to the Ontario Ministry of Health and get a health card. That is, you can get a health card (Canadian health insurance) before getting the final permanent residency card, once CIC has said you've passed the physical and provided a specific letter for the Ontario ministry. Whew.

This is the best answer.
posted by jellicle at 11:13 AM on June 2, 2006 [2 favorites]

My husband is Canadian, I'm American and I've gone through this myself.

The first immigration official we spoke to said that there would be no problem for me to move to Canada and live with my boyfriend, all I had to do is fill out a form. I quit my job, rented a moving van, etc. I went to the border to fill out this "form" previously mentioned and got told that in no uncertain terms it is not that easy. Long story short, we were told unofficially that it would be much easier if we got married and that's what we did less than a week later.

I moved to Canada a week after our wedding (married in Canada by a wedding commissioner) without a problem. However, I was instructed to apply for Landed Immigration (similar to a Green Card) within a month, which I did. Once I applied to become a Landed Immigrant it wasn't a problem to get a work permit (they have to be renewed every so often) and health insurance.

It took a total of 38 months (and several thousand dollars) for my Landed Immigration papers to come through.

You have to be a Landed Immigrant for 3 years before you can apply to become a citizen (I'm eligible July 2007).

Feel free to email me for more details or with specific questions.
posted by deborah at 11:18 AM on June 2, 2006

Re: deborah's story: do not attempt to cross the border WITH HOUSEHOLD GOODS as a visitor. You can perfectly legitimately enter as a visitor, but if you're bringing your wagon train, they're going to want you to be in an immigration status, i.e. already having applied for permanent residency from outside Canada and received your paperwork back. And, since you won't be married yet, immigration won't be automatic, as deborah points out. This is not what you want. So if she wants to just go live with him, she has to do it as a tourist, without household goods. Leave her household goods in storage or Mom's basement or something.
posted by jellicle at 11:30 AM on June 2, 2006

Response by poster: Jellicle, thanks for the insights. Deborah, thanks for the hands on details there. I'll point my sister to this thread and hopefully this will all work.
posted by Inkoate at 12:58 PM on June 2, 2006

Many Canadian MPs will offer Immigration services at their constituency office, which is to say, will have someone on staff who's job it is to help you deal with CIC and explain the rules, and ensure you get the best possible deal within the rules. The one who is a Canadian should give their MPs office a call and see if this is something that they do (they don't all, but a lot of them do.)

This has the advantage of being free, and also giving you access to someone who has a non-adversarial relationship with CIC (your immigration lawyer may have attracted the wrong type of attention at some point in the past, and they're not exactly going to advertise if they do). I'm not sure about CIC, but some gov't departments also have separate Parliamentary services divisions that ensure contacts being made through an MPs office have a kind of priority, which is also nice - although in the overall scheme of things there's no way to speed up this type of process short of some sort of emergency.

I would VERY highly recommend that you have them seek out advice/imput from the local MP, espeically if for some reason something goes wrong (they miss a deadline, file the wrong paperwork, etc.)
posted by tiamat at 4:32 PM on June 2, 2006

I did exactly what you did two years ago. The Canadian gov't was nothing but gracious and welcoming. If only the US was as kind to its immigrants. The only negative point is the waiting time--they say a year but the backlog at CIC it is much, much longer.

I even managed to cross the border on a visitor's visa, with a car full of boxes, and not being married yet. I did it at 3am on a week night near the border at Detroit. I also had a scare crossing back into the US for a vacation and then trying to come back into Canada, claiming to be a visitor, but actually living in Canada. But they did let me back in after a 3 hour interrogation. (Just FYI: It helps if you have a girl with you who can break down crying to make them feel bad, and don't let them find a Canadian bank card on you which makes it appear like you live there).

Once in the country I applied for residency with a spouse sponsoring me. Just by applying for this you are automatically granted permission to be in Canada.
(Isn't Canada so nice to its people?)

After 6 months you do have to apply for your visitor's visa to be renewed while you await the residency process to turn you into a landed immigrant. If it expires they will retroactively honor it as long as you put the application for an extension in the mail. They are very nice about letting me back into Canada--I crossed the border dozens of times with an expired visitor's visa, but after telling them I had applied for residency and had been "approved in principle" they just waved me through.
I actually started to wonder how the hell I was getting away with all this--I posit that maybe there is the opposite of the notorious terrorist "watch list"--a kind of "do not watch" list, and that somehow I ended up on it. That was the only rational I could come up with for the reckless shenanigans I was getting away with.

But be sure to bring money. I wish I had. You cannot work in Canada until they get almost 75% finished with your application, and if you do work without a permit they tell you that it will invalidate your entire application. They say it takes a year to be landed, but mine took almost 2 years! It took over a year just to get approved for a work permit while waiting for the rest of the application to be processed.

Ironically, I am now divorced and living back in the US(go USA!), so in summary: It all totally sucked, be very careful!
posted by archae at 11:50 PM on June 2, 2006

archae - I applied for (and received) a work permit right after I applied for Landing. I don't know why you had to wait. Very weird! But then I know someone who applied at the same time I did and was approved in about 14 months while it took them 38 months to approve me. Argh.

As jellicle said - do not show up with all your worldly goods (I did this after I was married so it was all okay). However, there was a woman there the same day who just upped and quit her job, etc. and showed up at the border with a moving truck saying she wanted to live in Canada. She was, of course, turned around at the border.
posted by deborah at 10:33 PM on June 3, 2006

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