I'm writing this for the "how to" column on the right, which I haven't updated in more than a year. People interested in emigrating email me very frequently, and many of them ask the same questions. With the usual disclaimers*, here are some answers.

1. During the application process, after you complete your medical exam, you may be asked for more medical information. This seems to happen to a huge number of applicants, including me.

It's very disconcerting. You receive a sealed envelope which you are instructed not to open. You must bring the envelope to the doctor who performed your medical exam, and await further instructions. Chances are there'll be some lag time after you receive the letter but before the doctor can speak to you, and your imagination will run wild with worry and fear.

Try not to panic.

The doctor who did my medical told me, "Ottawa always wants something else. So we give them more information, and that is that." He said that in 30 years of doing medical exams for CIC, he's never seen anyone rejected for a medical reason. Many other people have told me their doctors said the same thing.

I've never solved the mystery of the medical portion of the application. On the one hand, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that immigrants cannot be excluded based solely on medical condition or disability, including HIV status. On the other hand, the medical portion of the application stands, and "Ottawa always wants something else".

All I can say is: don't worry. No one is denied Permanent Residence status because of ordinary medical conditions such as hypertension, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, arthritis, depression, allergies, glaucoma, and such.

2. Once you get your visa, how long do you have until you have to take residence in Canada? This is The Big Question. Unfortunately, it's the Big Question That No One Can Answer. (I've blogged about it so many times, I don't even want to go back to collect all the posts.) It's not, as some people will tell you, one year from your medical exam. It appears to vary widely, which is probably why they don't publish the information anywhere.

We had nine months. We know people who were given six months, three months, fourteen months, one year, and, believe it or not, sixty days. Worse comes to worst, if you didn't have enough time, you could enter Canada, take temporary housing, get your Permanent Resident card, then go back, wrap things up, and move permanently when you're more ready. As long as you meet the residency requirements, your Permanent Residence status won't be compromised.

3. Many people are concerned because they are self-employed or freelancing, and there doesn't appear to be a place for them in the application process.

I don't think being self-employed is an obstacle. If you are applying under the Skilled Worker class, you should be able to find the employment code that most fits your line of work, and proceed like anyone else.

On the application, you won't be apply to provide a letter from your current employer. I would write a statement explaining that you are a freelancer, give a list of clients, including addresses, and perhaps attach a copy of your recent tax returns to prove that you have income.

I would also ask one or more of your clients to sign a letter (which you can write for them), attesting that you've done work for them, on such-and-such dates, have been paid such-and-such amount.

If you meet the minimum points requirement, can show "proof of funds", and have a profession or skill, I can't imagine that freelancing or self-employment would count against you.

4. The application asks for letters of reference from past employers. Obviously, most of us can't get letters from all our past employers. We provided proof of employment from our current employers. I was also able to get proof of employment from the job just previous to my then-current job; Allan could only get it from his then-current employer. We also included a letter explaining why this was all we could provide.

In general, anytime you deviate at all from the instructions, or if the instructions are unclear and you are responding with your best-guess effort, I would include a letter, stating as clearly as possible what you've done and why.

5. Many people ask me about moving to Canada while waiting for Permanent Residence status. I do know of several families who moved before their PR status came through. They all received it eventually, or else they're still waiting because it hasn't been enough time yet. So it's possible to do.

However, during that time - unless you have a temporary work visa, which is a separate process - you won't be able to work legally, and you won't be able to get health insurance.

My personal opinion? Why chance it. You'll be here a long time and have plenty of time to get established once Canada gives you the green light.

If you can afford to live without working legally, or if you're self-employed and the move won't effect your business, the equation might add up differently for you. (In comments, a reader mentions another option.) For us, not being able to work was not an option. My advice is hang tight. You'll get there.

6. This is something I've told many people, but I'm not sure if I've written it anywhere on this blog. Keep in mind that Canada needs immigrants. If you are a working, productive citizen who will contribute to Canadian society, CIC is predisposed to let you in. I didn't realize this when we first applied, but I've since come to understand it. The odds are in your favour. If you really want to move to Canada, and you've taken the self-assessment test and meet the minimum requirements, I encourage you to apply.

* I'm not an immigration lawyer, and I don't have any inside knowledge of CIC. My answers are based on my own experience and the experience of people who have contacted me through this blog. It's not official information; it's one person's best guess.


Idealistic Pragmatist said...

This is a terrific summary, L-girl!

The only thing I'd say differently would be the part about moving here before your residency comes through. I actually didn't even apply until I was already here...and working. For most immigrants, your advice would be one hundred percent correct, but Americans (and Mexicans) have the chance of working under a "NAFTA visa" (I think it's officially called a TN-1 or something like that) before getting permanent residency.

When you have this visa, you essentially have no status at all, and you have to renew it every year you stay, but you do get to work, and you do get health care. It's not a bad deal, and the only thing you have to do to get one is get a job and show proof of it (they give it to you at the border). In fact, I've recommended to some people who are unsure about moving to Canada that they come here under a NAFTA visa and "try it out" for a year before taking the permanent residency plunge.

MattInTO said...

Great stuff!!!! All of the stuff I bugged you about in the past. I guess we were one of the lucky ones in that the process ran so smoothly, we never heard from the again until demand for FBI and health records and then request for passports. The one negative thing - if it could be called that - was that we were only given 60 days. 60! So, made a trip to Vancouver in early January, took up residence including BC Health Insurance apps, bank accounts, etc and returned home soon after to spend the next several months wrapping things up. All I would add is to make sure you're reasonably ready to go when the time comes to submit your passports. They may not give you as much time as you hope.

L-girl said...

This is my third "advice" post. They are all linked to the right.

I/P, the questions I get are almost all from Americans. Do you know who the NAFTA Visa applies to, and if it's still functioning the same way? Because I email with dozens of people, and this option doesn't work for any of them. Is it the same as a temporary work permit? Are you eligible for health insurance? If you had kids, could they go to school?

Matt, I actually thought you guys got 6 weeks - you're the people I was referring to above! I'll change that now to 60 days. Yeesh!

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


It does still work that way--a good local friend of mine came up here on one last year (and has since applied for permanent residency because he met a nice Canadian woman :-). It is basically the same thing as a temporary work permit, but it's a special one only available to citizens of NAFTA countries (i.e., Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans). Yes, you get health care. Yes, your kids can (and must) go to school. It works the same way in reverse, too--my partner, a Canadian, is working temporarily in the U.S. under one of them right now. The trick is that you have to get the job from the U.S. and then your Canadian employer has to organize the visa for you--you can't just come here and then look for work, expecting to be able to use a NAFTA visa for it.

Let me see if I can find some details and I'll get back to you.

L-girl said...

Thanks, I/P. Don't go to any trouble.

It's funny that I never hear about this. Maybe people who can arrange employment in advance don't need the same sort of advice as those of us moving without a safety net.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Okay, here's some more data:

Lots of details of the "T1 status" (it's actually not technically a visa, though it's called one) are here --just scroll down to "Canada--who is eligible?"

From this thread on metafilter: A TN visa is dead easy to get (if she has a university degree and is qualified for a profession on the TN list). She needs a job offer first. She can apply at the port-of-entry with a passport, job offer, university transcript, and resume, and enter Canada with a visa the same day. [...] Keep in mind that a TN is a temporary visa, and is not intended for those seeking permanent residence.

And finally, here's a wikipedia page on the TN status (unfortunately it's aimed at Canadians going to work temporarily in the U.S., but since it's a NAFTA-determined status, it should be the same in reverse).

L-girl said...

Thanks so much, I/P. I'm sure readers searching for info will find that useful.

I see why I never considered this, and why so many people can't. A, you need a job first and B, it's not actually a visa.

How long did you live in Canada before you applied for PR status?

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I'm not too surprised you don't hear about this--you talk to people who want to come here permanently, and most of the people who come here under TN are only coming for work and aren't interested in staying permanently. It can, however, be a stepping-stone to staying permanently if you want it to be.

Arranging employment ahead of time can be tough for many because employers can balk if you don't already have permission to work in Canada. From what I hear, a lot of them won't look at your application at all, which can be discouraging. But it is doable for people who have skills Canada needs--especially in this economy, and especially if you're willing to work in, say, Edmonton or Calgary, where pretty much every employer in every sector is screaming for skilled workers right now.

As for me, I only lived in Canada for about a month before applying for PR status. (I'd always had the intention of staying permanently--the TN status was only the temporary permit that allowed me to take my current job before I had an official status.) It took about a year after that, so in total I lived in Canada for a little over a year before becoming a permanent resident.

L-girl said...

It can, however, be a stepping-stone to staying permanently if you want it to be.

Makes sense. I think wmtc reader Alex K may have come up this way.

Arranging employment ahead of time can be tough for many because employers can balk if you don't already have permission to work in Canada.

Right. That may depend on your line of work, too. It would have been impossible for us.

Thanks very much for the info!

Scott M. said...

A quick note...

Indeed, a TN is quite popular and common, at least it was when I was manning the border. In a normal shift where you were seeing one car every 60 seconds for an hour, with three one-hour shifts (on primary), you'd typically get 10 or so TNs as opposed to zero or one of the other work status (Minister's permit, etc.). Of course you'd have a lot of PRs during that time as well, but you might get someone landing only once every two or three days.

L-girl said...

Thanks, Scott. Your various work experiences are very educational for us. :)

West End Bound said...

Thanks L-girl and IP for all the good tips!

You two are the reason we keep checking out your blogs:

Great advice and information well-presented. Keep up the good work for those of us still navigating the process!

Diamond Jim said...

On (2), it had been my understanding that all you really need to do by the expiration of your visa is land, i.e. present your documents at the border. You could cross, have Immigration approve your documents (especially that all-important Proof of Funds), and cross right back again, if it came to that. I myself moved the day before my visa expired, but had landed about six weeks earlier, so I figured I was covered.

As to (3), I'm probably the poster boy for applying as a freelancer. I did not even approach my main client for any kind of reference; I just submitted my last two Schedule Cs. That was evidently enough to get me in as a freelance writer.

Courage! If I could do it, so can you!

L-girl said...

it had been my understanding that all you really need to do by the expiration of your visa is land, i.e. present your documents at the border. You could cross, have Immigration approve your documents (especially that all-important Proof of Funds), and cross right back again, if it came to that.

That's exactly what I meant - with one difference. I'm under the impression you need an address of some sort to give the agent when you land. You weren't asked for an address?

Diamond Jim said...

Yes, they ask for an address because they won't send your PR card to your home country. But you can have it sent to someone in Canada who can then send it to you. In the event, mine arrived at my friend's about a week before I was set to leave, and got to me just in time.

If you land and then leave, you can re-enter before you get your PR card with an emergency travel document, which is a special visa you can get at the consulate. It's not free, so if you're going to do it this way, stiil do it as early as possible.

L-girl said...

Yes, they ask for an address because they won't send your PR card to your home country. But you can have it sent to someone in Canada who can then send it to you.

Ah yes, that's what I meant by "temporary housing". Stay with a friend, use a friend's address, etc. Thanks for clarifying.

I didn't know about the emergency travel document. Thanks again!

Scott M. said...

I believe it's actually a "Minister's Permit"... potato, potatoe....

L-girl said...

Thanks, Scott. Knowing the official name is important, if you need to find information about it. You're a great resource.

Peregrinato said...

I may be incorrect, but I believe you can also live in Canada under a student visa while waiting for residency. The catch is you have to either (a) apply for both before you move to Canada or (b) be a student and be within one year of graduation. So if you're in that middler period you're out of luck. Dual intent won't interfere with your chances of getting residency, but you do have to make sure that you convince the immigration officer who is granting a student visa that you will, in fact, leave the country if your student visa expires prior to being granted residency. Student visas are generally much quicker to get and have their own set of requirements (e.g., proving that you have the funds to cover a year of tuition--which is much cheaper in Canada than the US--plus living expenses), but is otherwise pretty straightforward. (Clearly I've been looking up some alternative routes for me.)

L-girl said...

Thanks for the info, Peregrinato. People ask me about student visas all the time, but I'm not familiar with the process.

(Clearly I've been looking up some alternative routes for me.)

Let us know if you find one that works. :)