How much does immigrating to Canada cost, either temporarily or on a permanent basis? It certainly isn’t cheap. Government fees are infinitesimal compared to all the other costs.
But the hidden cost most people don’t count on is the price of failure. Of having planned and rearranged your life solely towards that immigration goal, only to have the goal destroyed not just for a month or a year, but possibly for a lifetime because of the way the Government of Canada interpreted your immigration application and supporting documents.
These destroyed dreams are by no means rare. We receive calls and emails every day from clients throughout Canada and around the world who are distraught over receiving rejections from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada due to a host of reasons ranging from the wrong type of application, using the wrong forms, missing documents, or worst of all being accused of lying in the application or being inadmissible to Canada, and consequentially facing a potential lifetime ban from the country. Even when these problems are fixable, they can be very expensive to fix - especially if court action is needed.
But there’s a special secret to saving lots of money on immigrating to Canada. Like lots of the best secrets, it’s sitting out there right in the open for all to see. But people don’t recognize it. It works like Doctor Who’s Tardis is supposed to work (if it wasn’t broken), blending into the background.
I didn’t used to know the secret myself. I practiced law for years without ever seeing it. Or hearing about it. It’s only in the last few years, when I’ve started to help more and more immigrants, that the secret has smacked me on the side of the head. And what is it, you ask?
"HIRE AN IMMIGRATION LAWYER. And be careful about who you hire.”
WHY IS IT STILL A SECRET?
Believe it or not, revealing the “secret" isn’t some self-promoting money grab on my part. Or the part of the other immigration lawyers I know. I find for the most part they’re a pretty self-effacing collegial bunch. It's an area of law that people enter because they want to help others (like criminal law), not because they want to get rich.
So why then am I sharing the secret with you? Because of the misery I see people suffer on a daily basis because they didn’t know about “the secret” (to be clear, we’re not talking about the bestselling The Secret book, which at 30 million copies sold clearly is no longer anyone’s secret).
These miserable people I encounter weren’t at all trying to be cheap. They’re people who if their water pipes broke in their basement they’d immediately call a plumbing professional to fix them. But they honestly believed - a belief that may be encouraged by the government - that they didn’t need a lawyer for temporary or permanent immigration to Canada.
In figuring out what they needed to do to immigrate, they saw there were a few online forms. There was an instruction guide. Maybe they even paid someone in their community a few hundreds dollars to help fill out the forms. Perhaps even the same person they pay to help with their taxes.
And the results? Catastrophic!
SO HOW BAD CAN IT GET?
A wife or husband banned for life from Canada because of what is claimed to be a “misrepresentation” due to one box rather than another being checked on one of many forms of a spousal sponsorship application. A student whose longterm study plans are destroyed because the proposed educational program on the study permit application is determined to be “inappropriate.” A software engineer whose dreams of working in Canada are dashed because the wrong National Occupational Classification (NOC) code was used on his work permit application.
WHY DOES SPENDING LEAD TO SAVING?
And so what’s this all got to do about saving money? The secret is that an immigration lawyer’s fees represent at most a few percent of your annual expenses or earnings in Canada, or the cost of your permanent relocation here, and the services they provide could save you many, many times the amount of money you are spending on legal fees. Don’t believe me? Let’s do the math.
THE SECRET MATH OF STUDY PERMITS WITH IMMIGRATION LAWYERS
So what’s the math like for adding an immigration lawyer’s fees into the overall mix of international post-secondary education annual costs in Canada? Let’s use the figures for some real schools from the costs posted on their websites (end 2018).
For the University of Toronto (where I went): $68,911 annual undergraduate cost including tuition, residence (at Trinity College, where I went), meals, texbooks and incidentals.
Or let’s take a community college, like George Brown College (where my wife studied after she graduated at U of T): approximately $26,000 annual costs, including $13,520 base tuition fee for diploma (non-degree) programs.
Or, let’s go outside of Ontario to a Quebec school, like the McGill Faculty of Law (where I also went): $42,325.66 annual tuition - not including accommodation, food or other expenses - we’ll conservatively call that another $1500/month for 8 months (Montreal certainly remains cheaper to live in than Toronto), so $57,325.66 total
Thus ranging from a low of $26,000 per academic year for community college programs, to a high of almost $70,000 for top university degree programs, these are big numbers for what international students are expected to be spending in Canada every year.
And by comparison, the cost of an immigration lawyer to secure a study permit? About $2,500 plus disbursements. Or about 10 % of the community college annual cost, and under 5% of the university annual costs. Over a four year program basis, this would amount to a cost increase of only 1% to 2.5% of overall education costs.
THE SECRET MATH OF WORK PERMITS WITH IMMIGRATION LAWYERS
So what about working in Canada? How do immigration lawyer fess figure as a percentage of total annual salary to be earned? Let’s take two examples.
Software engineers make an average of $90,000 a year in Canada. Farm managers make an average of $48,000 per year. Work permits for foreigners are typically available for a year, and can often be renewed for another one to two years, depending on the program being applied under. So the Software engineer permit could be worth $270,000 and the farm manager permit $144,000.
The cost of an immigration lawyer helping with the work permit: again about $2500, or in other words under 3% of the software engineer annual salary, and a bit over 5% of the annual salary for the farm manager.
Other types of employment-related immigration legal services can cost more, like Labour Market Impact Assessments or Intra-Company Transfers, but these are paid by employers in order to create positions for foreign workers in Canada. And even those higher costs could be considered a pittance compared to a business lost productivity and profits due to not being able to find Canadian workers.
THE SECRET MATH OF PERMANENT RESIDENCY WITH IMMIGRATION LAWYERS
Permanent residency math can be a bit trickier. Here you are both spending and making money on the Canadian dream. But you if just look at it from the spending perspective of selling all of your possessions, travelling with your family perhaps half-way round the world, needing to reacquire all the possessions you just sold - like home, car, personal items - and generally spending considerable time and resources becoming established in Canada.
It’s hard to know with precision how much that permanent relocation is going to cost, but it would seem at least $60,000 is a fair estimate when you consider potential costs of selling a home, selling vehicles with depreciation (because it isn’t worth importing them due to safety regulations), selling and buying new furniture or hiring a sea container to ship personal goods, flight costs for the entire family, and educational and job search transitional costs.
Really, you could spend a whole lot more, but I base this low end estimate in part on the very unscientific data of how much it cost my family to simply move from Halifax to Vancouver (a distance of 6050 kilometres, in case you were wondering), once all costs had been taken into account. And that was within the same country!
Here permanent residency immigration legal services cost a bit more than temporary study or work permits, because a lot more effort is required, often over a one to two year period. But your costs still might only be in the $5500 plus disbursements range. Thus the lawyer cost adds less than 10% to the total permanent residency costs.
IMMIGRATION LEGAL SERVICES BY THE FINAL NUMBERS
Now you might be thinking, how do these immigration lawyers actually “save” me money? If I just do the immigration application myself, or pay someone a few hundred dollars to do it for me, and I fail, I won’t be out all that money on fees and tuition. Or on moving. I’ll just stay put.
But the cases I personally see every day have involved a huge opportunity cost when failures happen. People who have invested lots back home in education or work or family plans with the goal of coming to Canada, only to see all of that washed away, often for very minor, stupid reasons.
It’s true immigration lawyers can’t guarantee results. In fact, you should run the other way from anyone who does offer a guarantee; that’s a sign they don’t know what they are talking about. But immigration lawyers can maximize prospects for success. In some ways, they’re like an insurance policy. Something you hope you don’t really need, but which will help you out if things go wrong - like if the Government of Canada comes back questioning the information you provided, and demanding you respond within seven days!
So do the math for yourself. Is that insurance worth an increase of between 1% to 10% in your costs? It doesn’t need to be a secret anymore.
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.