Friday, June 11, 2010

I Can Haz Werk Permitz Pls KThxBai

Yes, I’m fluent in English and LOLcat. :)

Anyway, we’ve just reached a huge milestone in my quest for permanent residence: my conditional acceptance, an unrestricted work permit, and a letter clearing Heather to be able to sponsor me. I am now, officially, a Landed Immigrant.

The process to get to this point began more than a year ago (we spent our first year-or-so here on other priorities like setting up house, budgeting our savings, Heather finding work and other such mundanities). We obviously would like to thank our pal and immigration attorney Jim Turner, and we recommend him highly -- without him we would simply not be this far along.

For those who read this blog looking for the occasional tip you can use on your own journey of relocation, here’s the three big things we’ve learned so far:

  • Have lots of money to live on. You’re going to need it. As I say, we could have started this process sooner (even some parts of it before we left the US), but I guess we wanted to be sure this town was going to work out for us, and that we could find employment and, you know, afford to live here. So that took about a year or so. Then we got an attorney, then we gave him the info he needed to get the paperwork going, did the medical tests and the other hoops, and then we waited. And waited.

All told, we’ve been here 2.5 years now, and we’ve just now cleared the biggest hurdle: getting the government to think we are (in my case) fit to be allowed to stay, and (in Heather’s case) fit to sponsor someone to stay. If it wasn’t for the fact that Heather is a citizen and was able to work (and found work) fairly quickly, we would have never made it. We still have some debts to pay, but they are fairly minor factors now that we have the potential to be dual-income earners. Budgeting and luck and some generosity from friends and relatives were extremely important in allowing us to stay here this long without having to live on the streets or some such fate.

From the date we finally filed our formal request for PR to today has been a bit short of nine months. Add in the forms we had to obtain and medical tests and such that I had to take, and you’re easily talking a year even if you’re on top of it (with an attorney so we made sure it was done right the first time!) from the moment you arrive. Trust us -- plan to be out of work for at least two years or longer.

  • Get an attorney. The daily struggle of earning income, securing housing and food and transport and healthcare and all the other things that consume people’s time can really get in the way of getting the things you need to do so you don’t end up getting deported done. Let the attorney handle the paperwork -- Canada’s government have a reputation for being very bureaucratic and exacting on immigration forms, if you make a mistake or some other problem occurs, you have to start over at square one -- and while Canada is in our experience really generous in letting most people stay here while they apply, you have to be seen to be making progress, or you will be eventually be asked to leave.

  • To this advice we will add a corollary: obey the rules, tell the truth, and avoid trouble. It should go without saying, but factors on your side or the government’s side could seriously delay how long it takes to get to the stage where you can work and earn money legally here (more about that in a minute). I had my visa extended probably longer than normal, primarily because I was always patient, friendly and open with border guards, customs people and immigration officials. Western Canada, at least, is a friendly place that likes friendly people. They don’t need or want hostile, rude, shifty or angry people (it’s just not a good match, at least in Victoria). Honesty -- even when it’s a bit unflattering -- really seems to get you farther than trying to hide something. The government doesn’t need you to be perfect, but in effect you’re establishing a new relationship with a country -- honesty and patience is going to count for a lot in the early stages.

  • Finally, don’t try to go it alone. We don’t just mean without an immigration attorney (some readers are probably far more capable of dealing with bureaucracy than we are, and could save a few thousand by going the DIY route), we mean don’t underestimate how much the community wants to help. From our friends to our attorney to our landlord and even some casual acquaintances, people here have been supportive of our wanting to live here, eager to give us opportunities (within the law, of course) and friendly to a fault.

We knew our families would stand by us, and that our Florida friends would stay in touch, but we never expected so much help from our new community. Maybe its the fact that Canada is growing and booming (we even avoided some of the bigger problems caused by the worldwide financial crisis), or maybe its just part of the character of this area to be welcoming beyond the call of duty, but we’ve had no end of help, advice and cheerleading from the people we’ve met here, which plays no small part in how much we truly enjoy living here.

Finally, one last word about working: working illegally in Canada has huge repercussions for both the employer and the visitor, and thus is strongly not recommended despite the temptation. There are some legal ways around this: certain professions defined by NAFTA and the province in question as being of critical need (such as nurses)  or certain types of “occasional” work (such as, in my case, stand-up comedian) are allowed, and there are situations where you can be hired by a Canadian company as an independent or internet contractor, making your actual location irrelevant. International students who come here under that visa can work part-time with restrictions, and so forth. But basically, you shouldn’t count on being that lucky. Such situations are rare and hard to get.

Canada has no illegal immigration problem to speak of, primarily because of tight regulation of employers in this regard, and strong penalties for them if caught hiring illegals, so as far as I could tell, no employer in their right mind would take the risk on you, even “under the table,” and although it’s tough not being allowed to work, they are actually doing you (and themselves of course) a favour.

So, now that I’m “legal at last” to work, I’ll have to start looking for job. The attorney tells me that I also have to send in a request for an FBI background check -- the Canadian government have already done a preliminary check (they did that at the border), but this is just another routine step. I can’t imagine that the FBI have ever heard of me, but I have made a few jokes about J. Edgar Hoover in my time, so we’ll see … just kidding, fellas!


Anonymous said...


(your irregular Salt Spring correspondent)

Anonymous said...

Let me be the first to welcome you (officially) in your blog. I've been following your adventures here, and hope you'll keep it up, and help us all keep this a pretty good place to live, work, and love!

- Chris