“Here are some tips on moving to Canada form the USA.”
— Timothy Morson, ex-Immigration Officer and Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant
How to move to Canada from the USA
Tens of thousands of US citizens move to Canada every year. And every year thousands also fail in their attempt to make the move because they simply do not understand how Canada’s complex immigration system works. There are so many risks and opportunities around immigration that a well though out plan is indispensable.
If you are looking to move to Canada, consider immigration strategies designed for professionals, skilled workers, businesspeople or investors, international students, and spouses of Canadian citizens. And beware of false or misleading incentives that can cost you a small fortune in time, money and effort – or bar you from entering Canada for a considerable length of time.
Professionals and skilled works or tradespeople may be eligible to immigrate to Canada under one or more of some 60 economic immigration programs. These programs are generally ‘employer driven’ meaning that to qualify for immigration, a prospective immigrant must first obtain a government-approved job offer from a Canadian employer. They are also based on a point system or comprehensive ranking system. Under this system, all prospective candidates must create a profile to enter the Express Entry pool. Regular draws or rounds of invitations are conducted based on criteria that change depending on the immigration priorities of the Government of Canada at the time of the draw.
Most applicants under these economic programs are already in Canada as temporary foreign workers or international students. So the best strategy normally includes a two-pronged approach designed to enter Canada first on a work permit or study permit, then applying for permanent residence usually after a minimum of one year on the work permit or after completing the study program.
Coming to Canada on a work permit first then applying for permanent residence under one of the economic programs is perhaps the best immigration strategy. That’s because temporary foreign workers are often given preference over other candidates under these programs since they are generally settled and integrated in Canadian society. To obtain a work permit, applicants normally require a government- approved job offer from a Canadian employer. In some cases, applicants may be able to obtain an ‘open’ work permit, that is a work permit that is not tied to any one employer and allows holders to work for anyone willing to hire them.
Getting an approved job offer from a Canadian employer
Canadian employers are often not familiar with the process of getting a job offer approved by the government. About half of all job offers go through an elaborate approval process called the Labour Market Impact Assessment. The other half are exempt from the LMIA process because the job can be offered to a prospective candidate on the basis of certain international agreements such as the new
NAFTA or USMCA (US-Mexico-Canada Agreement). There are umpteen exemption categories which may appear to complicate the process but which in fact offer employers and prospective candidates many opportunities to succeed if understood properly.
Intra-Company Transfer Work Permit
Many US companies have been opening Canada branch offices these past few years and transferring staff to Canada. If your US employer has a business presence in Canada and you are a senior manager or occupy a specialized-knowledge position, you might want to see if your position can be transferred to Canada. It’s not necessary for the US entity (or any foreign entity) to have a long-standing presence in Canada to be able to transfer employees. In fact, many employees are transferred with the express purpose of opening a Canadian entity. This is a good immigration strategy. But it needs to be planned very carefully given that the immigration strategy is part of a bigger business strategy. The two go together.
Business Immigration and Business Start Ups
Starting a business in Canada can be easy. Being successful in one’s business may be another matter. Canada has various immigration programs designed to attract experienced businesspersons. The Canada business start-up program is attractive on many levels including the speed at which decisions are made and the low entry costs. But like anything, applicants need to do their homework, understand the risks, identify good potential collaborators where possible, and plan carefully. Immigration officers are always on the lookout for reasons to refuse an application, and poorly prepared applications are easy to identify.
International students who have completed their post-secondary studies in Canada (college or university diploma, or technical school) at a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) that confers access to a Post-Graduation Work Permit may also have an advantage under many of these economic programs. Study permit holders may work up to 20 hours a week during their studies, full-time during study breaks such as the summer, and later after successfully completing their studies, obtain a work permit valid for the same duration of time as their study program (so a 2-year study program will lead to a 2-year work permit, a 3-year study program to a 3-year work permit). But it’s important to bear in mind that study permits are only issued to international students who are admitted by a DLI. In choosing a DLI, be careful to seek admission to one where international students are eligible to obtain a Post-Graduation Work Permit. This is because some DLIs do not offer access to the PGWP. Many international students are misled into believing that they will be able to get a work permit after their studies.
Canadians fall in love with Americans all the time. But the border can be a barrier to a thriving relationship. To apply to live in Canada, American spouses or common-law partners have a number of options. Most often, their application is sponsored by their Canada spouse. The sponsorship process requires that the Canadian spouse demonstrate the intent to move to Canada if they are not already resident in Canada. Legally married spouses and common-law spouses (couples who have been living in a conjugal relationship under the same roof for at least one year and can prove it) are both eligible under this program, including same-sex couples.
Canada and the US have a shared information treaty to help them manage the admission of foreigners entering from one another’s country. US citizens entering Canada are often flagged because of DWIs or DUIs, which are criminal offences in Canada that can lead to a finding of inadmissibility. These and other risks can be managed provided applicants are transparent and strategic in their approach to immigration.
What do I mean by immigration strategy?
Canada’s immigration programs are generous. But they are also very complex (there are literally hundreds of permanent residency and temporary residency programs and hundreds of factors that are taken into consideration every time an application is processed). The burden is on applicants to get everything right before applying. Unfortunately, applicants often assume that immigration is merely a form-filling exercise without recognizing how the decision-making process works. An effective immigration strategy identifies every possible risk factor and proposes a fix. The fix could include anything from simple explanatory letter about some circumstance that has a bearing on the application or getting a new employment reference letter because the one issued recently is phrased in such a way as to damage the applicant’s immigration opportunities. If you are considering immigrating to Canada get a professional, independent, and well-informed opinion first on the opportunities that might be open to you (and the risks that might stand in your way). Every person’s circumstances are different and there is no one-size fits all.
Who may advise you?
Canada regulates immigration professionals who charge a fee for their services. Only Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultants (or RCICs) who are members of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), immigration lawyers who are members of a provincial law society, and Quebec notaries are authorized to provide immigration advice and representation. Be wary of consulting firms where there is no way to determine the identity and experience of the consultant or lawyer.
Choosing an immigration advisor
Like any industry or profession, it is incumbent on clients to do their research to be sure they are obtaining advice from a competent, well-qualified immigration advisor. There are many very good RCICs and many good lawyers. Ultimately it will come down to a question of trust and confidence. Any professional who makes tantalizing promises or guarantees or is unable to give a convincing overview of the risks or wants a large retainer fee may be warrant extra caution. Good immigration advisors will educate their clients and provide clear explanation and proof of the steps being undertaken in an immigration process, and they will never sugar coat the risks.
How I can help you understand your Canada immigration options
I have a lot of government and private-sector experience in immigration, including a Canadian diplomatic assignment in the United States. There are many free tools on the web that will allow you to calculate your points to see if you might qualify for immigration. Validating the results of these assessments and understanding your options is critical to immigration success. I offer my clients a detailed assessment that includes a one-hour exploratory telephone consultation. These consultations are very valuable because they allow the two of us to quickly narrow down the best opportunities and to recognize potential risks that could derail your plans. As well, my approach goes beyond immigration. Your personal and career aspirations are an important part of the mix. Ultimately, your immigration project will become one of the most important personal undertakings of your life. Some immigration strategies may require more time to realize, others less time. My only goal is to help you make realistic choices designed for immigration success.