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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.”


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!


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. 


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.


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 

How Can Americans Immigrate to Canada? Top 5 Tips to Enjoying More Maple Syrup & Moose Burgers than You Thought Possible (Tofu Substitutes Shaped Like Beavers Also Available)


How Can Americans Immigrate to Canada? Top 5 Tips to Enjoying More Maple Syrup & Moose Burgers than You Thought Possible (Tofu Substitutes Shaped Like Beavers Also Available)

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