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.