Canada is now taking in more permanent residents per capita than any other country on earth. And those numbers continue to climb year over year. But somewhat ironically, it can now be a lot trickier to qualify for the permanent residency golden ring up front than it used to be. Citizens of the United States of America have several advantages in their quest to move to Canada, starting with being visa exempt to visit Canada, and possibly having NAFTA work permits available (at least until someone rips up NAFTA).
Here are my top five tips as a Canadian immigration lawyer to maximize your chances as an American (or other national) of qualifying to settle in Canada permanently.
1. Get a Job in Canada
Canada increasingly awards permanent residency qualifying points to those who already have work experience in Canada. I know it might seem a bit of the chicken versus egg problem of you wanting permanent residency so you can get a job in Canada because most jobs are not available to foreign nationals, but if you work at it you'll find there are lots loopholes available (albeit some very complicated ones) to come to Canada to work as a foreigner.
High skilled occupations - especially in the IT sector - may be able to get work permits. Francophones working outside Quebec may find permits. There are sometimes permits available to those who are self-employed. Sometimes getting a job that qualifies through what's known as a provincial nominee program (PNP) which is an immigration program administered by a Canadian province rather than the Federal Government (though you eventually need to apply to the Feds) may also be a viable path to permanent residency.
Yes, finding an available job without already having permanent residency is a hassle. No one said immigration was easy. But if your plan is to uproot your life, and move yourself, your family, your career, your future to another place, then all those logistics are going to take lots of planning. As in years of planning. Hopefully you’ll find it’s worth it. My parents went through that hassle when they immigrated to Canada, and I thank them every day for having done so.
Starting with an immigration lawyer might be your best bet as an American wanting to work in Canada as a path to permanent residency, since an immigration lawyer can explain all the options to you (and there are lots of them). You might also need to work with a recruiter, or even start with a recruiter, depending on your profession.
2. Study in Canada
Always thinking about doing that Masters or PHD degree, but never got around to it? Canada has lots of outstanding internationally ranked post-secondary schools at bargain prices, relatively speaking. The fact of you having a Canadian degree will generate major points in your favour towards Canadian permanent residency, as will the fact that you have an advanced graduate qualification. It's not a guaranteed in - you'll also need other factors in your favour - but it's a major plus.
But even coming to school in Canada as a foreigner isn’t as simple as just submitting a school application and showing up. You’ll need a study permit issued by the Government of Canada, and those permits can be a hassle to get when Immigration, Refugees & Citizenship Canada (IRCC) starts challenging whether you have enough money to support yourself while studying in Canada. You’ll probably be allowed some limited part time employment, but it won’t cover most of your expenses. You might even get hassled by IRCC over the legitimacy of the program you're enrolled in.
Again, my advice if you’re serious about studying here is to start with an immigration lawyer after you’ve identified some schools of interest. No, the process definitely shouldn’t be such a hassle that you need a lawyer. It’s in fact somewhat shocking that you do. But we constantly see people who have spent years planning and saving to study in Canada, and who are accepted by a great school, only to have their dreams destroyed or delayed because two months prior to starting their program the IRCC refuses their study permit for one reason or another.
3. Start a Business in Canada
Although the immigrant passive "investor" programs are mostly dead in Canada (outside Quebec), there remain several viable active immigrant “entrepreneur” programs runs by provinces as provincial nominee programs. You’ll need some cash and some business experience to qualify, and to actually move to the province which accepts you even if your long term goal is to live elsewhere in Canada. And you’ll definitely need an immigration lawyer for these programs, as they're much more complicated in their applications than a normal work or study permit. But they remain very viable alternative immigration paths for Americans (and others) who might not meet the criteria for other paths to Canadian permanent residency.
4. Hit the Express Entry High Score
Canada truly high grades its immigrants, largely based on its assessment on who will succeed the best once settled here, and who will contribute the most to Canada. Under the Federal Government's premiere permanent residency immigration program that's currently called "Express Entry," Canada thinks you’re slowly dying after 29 years of age (when you get the most points for age) and are totally dead after 44 (when age-based points disappear completely).
You can still immigrate at an older age, but the more boxes you can’t check (29 or under, PHD, fluent in French AND English), the harder time you’re going to have making the cutoff score. As an American who has lived all your life in Florida, you’re competing against Americans (and others) who have spent years working or studying in Canada. So you need an edge. You might in fact have that edge, but you need to work every angle, and be prepared for alternatives to the Federal Express Entry program where I often find our clients have trouble meeting the required cut off score the first time around, but there are lots of alternatives paths to permanent residency.
If you're thinking Express Entry, your own Internet research is probably the best starting point. You might be able to figure out an approximation of your likely Express Entry points without anyone’s help. You might find you’re extremely close, or you might not even be in the game. But once you’ve done that initial research, you should think about seeking out professional help.
The irony is that prior to my becoming an immigration and citizenship lawyer, I was convinced that this wasn’t a “real law” area; that this was something anyone could do by themselves. Criminal charges? Family law problems? I’d always urge people to run out to find a lawyer. But immigration? The only reason I now know different is that I see up close the thousands of disastrous cases per year where people have done their best to do everything right, indeed sometimes they have submitted a "perfect" immigration application that should definitely be accepted, but isn’t for some unfair reason.
So immigration lawyers don't just perfect applications (because you actually might be able to do that yourself), rather they also worked to fix unjustified rejections through dealing with Canadian governments, and also steer clients to immigration paths with the lowest risk of rejection, because they leave less discretion in the hands of government officials.
5. Check if You Might Already be a Canadian Citizen.
Don’t get your hopes up. I’m frequently contacted by Americans hoping that their link to their Canadian great-great grandmothers will get them in the door. It won’t.
But if you’re family is originally from Canada, it’s worth checking out if you might already be a citizen since I believe the vast majority of those not living in Canada who might be able to claim Canadian birthright citizenship tend to be Americans.
Gordon S. Campbell is a Canadian immigration & citizenship lawyer who previously served as counsel to the IRCC and Canada Border Services Agency. Learn more at compleximmigration. ca.