Flagpoling is a completely legal process to activate a new immigration status. The process involves leaving Canada, being refused entry into the USA and then re-entering Canada.

If you already visiting or working in Canada and have been approved for a new IEC work permit (or even Permanent Residency), flagpoling is the easiest way to activate it without leaving Canada for a trip elsewhere. If you’re like me and wary of border crossings, the idea of flagpoling can be intimidating. Here’s everything you need to know to get the job done quickly and (hopefully) painlessly.

How flagpoling works:

Once finally at the border booths, advise the USA border official that you are flagpoling to activate a Canadian work permit. They will give you ‘referral’ piece of paper (usually orange) and instruct you to go inside the US immigration office. In here, you will complete a Refusal of Admission form and then be sent back to the Canadian side. To activate your new work permit in the CBSA office, you’ll need all your documents (POE, proof of funds, insurance) to hand.

Important things to know about flagpoling:

  • Flagpoling doesn’t count as being officially being refused entry. It is an administrative refusal which will not impact any future travel to the USA or anywhere else
  • It is not possible to ‘flagpole’ or activate an IEC work permit at an airport unless flying into the airport from an international destination
  •  Border crossings are found across the country – note that some of the smaller crossings close at night
  • A good option for flagpoling from Vancouver is Point Roberts. This border is accessible via public transport and is also generally quiet, which means a quicker crossing.
  • The busiest Southern Ontario crossings (Queenston, Niagara Falls, Rainbow Bridge and Fort Erie – Peace Bridge) only allow flagpoling Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
  • Be aware that land border officers are, in general, less familiar with the IEC program than their airport counterparts. Read on for my own experience!

When work permit activations go wrong

When it came to activating my second IEC work permit, I was living on Vancouver Island, BC. It’s a beautiful place, but not super convenient when it comes to border runs. Any route to Washington from the Island involves a ferry and is difficult to do in one day. I decided to make a trip of it instead. We had a great week in Washington exploring the tunnels beneath Seattle’s streets, hiking through the wettest place in the USA and getting a little freaked out by the Twilight fandom in Forks.

Arriving back in Canada at the Belleville border in Victoria, I was the only person from our ferry directed into the CBSA office. I was asked for my POE, proof of funds and insurance. The border officer asked where I lived and what my occupation was. He was doing everything by the book. All was fine until I spotted the date of expiry he had entered on my work permit.

The border officer had dated my work permit to only last five months, not the full year it should have been. Awkward. I started to explain that the expiry date on my POE was a year after it had been approved, not the expiry date of my intended work permit. He read through my POE twice and then got a supervisor. Twenty nail-bitingly long minutes later, they called me over to check my new work permit. The date was correct! To avoid this tense situation for yourself, read up on my arrival advice.

Have you ever flagpoled? Did you have a difficult work permit activation? I’d love to hear your experiences!

Gemma
Author

One half of a Canadian/British couple currently living in Penticton, British Columbia. Gemma is happiest with a paddle in her hand, on the trail or planning the next big adventure.

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