Lawyers like words. And have a reputation for being wordy. My published law books are about 250,000 words each! But I believe it’s possible to condense an area of law down to 500 words for (almost) everything you need to know. That’s no more than a short magazine article. Here’s my top 500 words on immigration law in Canada. 

1. KNOW YOUR STATUS

There are four immigration classes of people in Canada: Citizens, Permanent Residents, Temporary Residents, and those with No Status. It’s possible to slide up and down through the classes, sort of like social mobility, by applying for different status and meeting technical requirements. The higher your class, the harder it is to slide down. The lower your class, the harder it is to pull yourself up. 

2. GUARD YOUR STATUS

It’s very important to do whatever the law requires you to do to retain your immigration status, because you’re at huge risk of being kicked out of Canada if you lose all status. If you’ve got 182 days in Canada as a Visitor, make sure you renew before 183 days. If your study permit doesn’t let you work, make sure you don’t do anything that might be construed as work - even volunteering. 

3. AVOID MISREPRESENTATIONS

Making a “misrepresentation" to the Government of Canada is probably the biggest common immigration sin, leading to the most dire consequences. It’s far better to come clean over past immigration indiscretions - overstaying a visitor visa, illegally working, being convicted of a criminal offence - than lying about them when asked on a form or by an officer. It may be possible to absolve yourself of many types of indiscretions if you ask really nicely and get lucky. But actual misrepresentations are rarely forgiven, and could get your citizenship revoked. A misrepresentation can even be accidental. 

4. AVOID APPLICATION ERRORS

The government focusses on the most minor of inconsistencies, discrepancies and errors in immigration applications. Photo size off by a millimetre: rejection! Documents professionally translated but not accompanied by precisely the right certification affidavit: rejection! Listed all your nine brothers and sisters, but left off a step-brother because you don’t know where he lives and you ran out of space on the form: rejection and possible allegations of misrepresentation!

5. PROCESSING TIMES VARY GREATLY

How greatly? Try from one day to five years! Processing speed depends on where you apply, when you apply, what you apply for and who is applying. So before applying, consider all those factors to determine your fastest route. And if the process seems to be taking a ridiculously long time, consider a government nudge, and in the worst cases consider a Federal Court mandamus judicial review application to expedite things. 

6. FIND OUT WHY YOU FAILED

An Access to Information Act or Privacy Act request could obtain internal government notes better explaining why your application was rejected, so that you can fix the issues on a resubmission. 

7. CHALLENGE WACKY DECISIONS

Sometimes government decisions are just wacky. You don’t need to put up with them. But get a lawyer to challenge them. Don’t try to do it yourself or you could dig yourself into an even bigger hole. Decisions might be challengeable at the Immigration and Refugee Board or before the Federal Court, in part on grounds of violation of procedural fairness and natural justice. 

And if you don't think that's 500 words on the nose, you can take it up with wordcounter.net

Gordon S. Campbell is an immigration and citizenship lawyer practicing throughout Canada who has served as legal counsel to the IRCC and CBSA, and argued public law cases as high of the Supreme Court of Canada.