Two years ago today I became a Permanent Resident of Canada! It was a very happy day for both Jean Robert and I – it meant we were now able to live in Canada together as long as like.
A Permanent Resident is an immigrant who can live in Canada permanently but cannot vote, run for political office or have a Canadian passport. After a certain amount of time as a PR, they can apply for become a citizen and then do all of the above should they wish. There is also one very important obligation that PRs have – they have to live in Canada for at least two years of every five to keep permanent residency status (though there are some exceptions).
This is the story of how I became a Permanent Resident of Canada. It is not an advice piece; I plan to write another post with more details on the actual application process. In the meantime, you are welcome to leave a comment below with questions or email me gemma[at]offtracktravel.ca
A long working holiday
November 2011 – Jean Robert and I had just finished a three month road trip around Europe and headed to British Columbia in the hopes of perhaps working in a ski resort for a year or so. Only six months later (after a successful season snowboarding and working at Vancouver Island’s Mount Washington) we were getting into the swing of BC life and started to wonder if we would be both able to stay longer.
As a British citizen, I could apply (at the time) for two one year working holiday visas, one of which I was already half way through, and the other I had already applied for. Once I activated the second, we would then be on a ticking clock for departure. I knew it was very unlikely I would be able to get a visa via work sponsorship as my job was minimum wage and limited to the winter season.
Why don’t you just get married?
As a Plan B, I started to research what options there were for partners of Canadian citizens. I found out pretty quickly that applying for Permanent Residency was an option for both married and common law couples. And what does ‘common law’ mean, you may ask? According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), it means ‘living with your partner for at least 12 consecutive months in a relationship like a marriage.’
Well, this changed everything. By this point we had lived together for over two years, so we were set. Throughout the application process, I actually had many people ask me why we didn’t get married to make things easier and here is the answer – it doesn’t necessarily make the process any faster as applications from married and common law couples are considered together.
Fast forward to the start of winter and we made the decision to go ahead with the application. It is not something to be taken lightly as the costs are certainly not low (we spent $2500 total, fees, paperwork, photos and medical all in) and it takes time to put the actual application together. In our case, it took approximately two months from when I first looked at the documentation checklist on CIC’s website to actually putting our application in the mail.
Both married and couple law couples have to prove that their relationship is ‘loving, ongoing and genuine’ for their application to be approved. As a common law couple, we also had to prove that we had been living together as if we were married (shared bank accounts, paying for bills together, mail at the same address). This means there is a LOT of gathering of documentation that must be done even before any forms have been filled out.
A kilogram of paper
Proving the living together bit was actually harder than the loving/ongoing/genuine part for us (we used photos and letters from family for this), even though we had lived together for almost the entirety of our relationship! To cut a long story short, we were never really ‘officially’ living anywhere together until a few months before we put in the application – no tenancy agreements, few bills paid together, no shared bank account. Jean Robert didn’t even HAVE a bank account when we lived in the UK (another long story).
A good part of our application therefore consisted of any vaguely official documentation I could find that had both of our names on it. Car insurance that we had for six months, flights to Canada booked together, wedding invitations with both our names on, library cards listed at the same address, even matching stamps in our passports from our trip to Europe! We opened a shared bank account ASAP, got a copy of our current tenancy agreement, signed the ‘statutory declaration of common law union’ and hoped that was enough.
Our application ended up as a one kilogram paper monster – I wish I had taken a photo.
The long wait and a potentially risky trip home
When applying for PR via the common law/spousal sponsorship route, the applicant can either file inland or outland. Outland means the application is processed outside of Canada, in the applicant’s home country or nearest processing office. Inland means processing happens in Canada – for this, the applicant must be living in Canada throughout the application. Outland is usually faster than outland (depends on the visa office) BUT with the inland process a work permit can be applied for, allowing the applicant to work while waiting.
I applied inland as I wanted the work permit – problem was, processing times were delayed and instead of receiving it six months into the application, I was advised it would be a year or more. Turns out it didn’t matter so much anyway as the ski resort I was working at experienced the worst winter in years and was closed much of the season. I decided to take opportunity to go home to the UK, my first visit in over two years. I was taking a risk in leaving the country while having an inland application in process, but by then I had my work permit and felt it was unlikely I would be refused entry.
So close, yet so far
While in the UK, I found out that a decision had been made on my application. A little after my return to Canada (I had no trouble getting back in), I received a letter stating that I would be granted PR, but had to wait for an interview in Vancouver. And here lies another downside of an inland application – rather than enter Canada at any border (airport, land or ferry) like an outland applicant would do, to receive my PR I would have to ‘land’ at an immigration office instead.
The waiting time to land at the Vancouver office (my nearest landing office) was six months. Ouch. I was grateful that my application had been processed reasonably quickly (11 months compared to the expected 18) but to wait another six months just for a formal ‘landing’ seemed ridiculous.
Landing in Vancouver
The awful ski season we were experiencing at Mount Washington led us to bump up our summer road trip plans. Our adventure was to take us all over BC and the Yukon, with little internet or phone signal along the way. We would also be leaving our last address permanently. It would therefore be very difficult for CIC to contact us about an interview.
Knowing that CIC’s call centre was likely to be fairly useless on the subject, I wrote a letter to the Vancouver landing office to explain the situation. I did include a note that I knew that going on a road trip wasn’t the most desperate of circumstances, but I would appreciate any help at all.
The day my letter arrived the office, we received a phone call from a CIC agent who asked if we could come in the following Friday for a landing interview. We couldn’t believe it. I honestly didn’t think it was legitimate until we got to the CIC office on the Friday and my name was called. After a couple of formalities and some signatures, I landed and become a Permanent Resident!
But wait, there’s more
My PR story isn’t quite over. As a Permanent Resident, you have a PR Card as identification, essential when returning to Canada from abroad and for other things like signing up to health care. When landing inland, an automatic request for a PR card is sent. It took four months to receive my PR card – something that was especially frustrating when it came to my driver’s license, which they wouldn’t renew for the full five years until I had it.
Return of the waiting game
Just over six months after receiving my PR card, we went on a trip to Europe and had all of our belongings stolen in Italy. It was a bad situation already, but my still-new PR card was amongst the stolen items too. I was cross-questioned when returning into Canada and applied for a new card as soon as I could. That was in June 2015. At the time of writing, I still do not have my new card due to processing times, which is proving a bit of a problem for ID purposes and when crossing the border back into Canada.
The road to citizenship
I plan to apply to become a citizen as soon as I can (mainly to avoid further PR card issues!) Until last year, I would have been able to apply right around this time – Spring 2016. Unfortunately the rules changed and now require Permanent Residents to live in Canada for longer before applying to become a citizen. The new government has stated that they hope to change these rules, but how long it will take remains to be seen! Without a change, I will have to wait until at least 2018.