My Journey to Permanent Residency - Part 1
Updated: Dec 16, 2019
On August 13, 2018, I emigrated to Canada. One year later to the day, I became a permanent resident of Canada.
Interested in knowing how I got there? Read along.
This whole process started in early 2017. At that time, I already knew I wanted to go and emigrate to Canada. I had booked my flights… and that was about it. I hadn’t really researched anything beyond that point. I assumed I would start looking for a job once I got there and somehow get a work permit from that. That was my first mistake.
We Europeans are incredibly lucky. I know, I repeat myself, but it’s true! We get to travel, study and work in any country of the European Union without restrictions. Not everyone enjoys those rights, but I did. Between 18 and 23, I lived in the UK for two years, in the Netherlands for another two and spent a few months in Finland. There were no visas, no embassies, no nothing. I just packed my bags and immigrated - just like that. Of course, there were some administrative steps to tackle after I arrived, but nothing that I wouldn’t have had to deal with at home anyway.
I wrongly assumed that things would be similar in Canada. Of course there weren’t. Shortly before I was to travel to Canada, I realized that I wouldn’t actually be able to work right away. I COULD, but the probability of it was pretty low. My problem was two fold. As a foreigner, I was allowed to apply for jobs in Canada. However, most employers will always favour Canadian citizens and permanent residents over non-residents. The reason why is obvious and applies to most countries: employers need to sponsor foreign workers to work in the home country. It costs money. Employing citizens and permanent residents does not. Thus, generally speaking, only big companies will have the financial resources to employ foreign workers. Think the farming industry, the tech industry or academia.
And that was my second issue: I didn’t specialize in any of those fields. Sure, I had two degrees, but no real work experience. I didn’t have anything on my resume that would make me stand out. I would have been a baker or a cheese maker, it would have been a different story - there is a huge demand for them here. Not so much for European Policy experts…
I knew then that it was foolish of me to try and immigrate without a work permit. As I said, I could have found a job without it, but it might have taken me months, if not years. At 23, I didn’t have that kind of Savings. I felt I couldn’t take the risk.
That’s when I contacted an immigration lawyer, who helped me figure out what my best options were. This is how it was explained to me.
Temporary Work Permits
There are two types of temporary work permits. On the one hand, an open work permit allows you to work for any employer in Canada. You can however only get one in specific situations. Canadian universities, for instance, will grant a three-year work permit to any international student that has successfully graduated.
Employer-specific work permit, on the other hand, only allows you to work for a specific and known employer. Let’s say I had decided to move to Canada in 2017. I would have been able to stay in the country as a tourist for six months. During that time, I would have received a job offer, which means the organization was willing to sponsor me to work in Canada. I would then have applied for a employer-specific work permit. The Canadian Government would have allowed me to work for that organization and that organization only. If my organization were to go bankrupt, I would not be able to work anymore until I found another organization that would be willing to sponsor me. Remember, sponsoring a worker costs money. Companies will not hire foreign workers if they can find a Canadian worker with similar experience.
I emigrated to Canada with a temporary work permit. More specifically, I received an open work permit through International Experience Canada. This program is the Canadian equivalent of a Working Holiday Visa. The Canadian Government has bilateral agreements with other countries that allow a fixed number of young people (under 30 years old) to come and work in the country every year. Many countries have similar programs. I actually applied and received a Working Holiday Visa for Australia before I applied for the one in Canada.
The selection process is similar to a selection process for a job offer. Work experience, education and skills will determine whether you are a good candidate. Afterwards, it is mainly a question of competition. How experienced are the other candidates? That’s what matters. I have heard that the Canadian Working Holiday Visa is difficult to get for French citizens. As they are only a fixed number of places available, the more popular the program, the harder it is to get in.
When I applied back in 2017, there were about 200 spots left for Belgian citizens. I think in total, there are just over 400 spots for Belgians per year. I got in without much of a fuss. I was at an advantage. I had a bachelor and a master degree, over a year of full-time work experience and I was fluent in Canada’s two official languages: English and French.
My work permit was limited to a year from the moment I arrived in the country. It was granted when I landed in Toronto Pearson Airport on August 13th, 2018. There were little restrictions to where I could work. The main condition was that the work permit would expire on August 12th, 2019, and that I would not be able to renew it - at least through that program. I was granted a year and that was it.
My temporary work permit was only the start of the process. I got it and it allowed me to work legally in Canada - for a year. If I wanted to stay and work longer, I needed to apply for another program: permanent residency.
The classic path to permanent residency is usually through the Express Entry Program. It is a point-based system. Each candidate earns points when they meet specific criteria. A bachelor degree? You get 300 points. A master degree? Another 300 points. You have work experience in a field where there is scarcity in Canada - I am looking at you, cheese makers? 600 points! Oh, and you also took the language tests approved by the Government? Amazing! An intermediate level will give you 250 points, but an advanced level will get you 500 points.
Disclaimer: I made up those numbers. I actually have no idea how many points are granted for education, work experience and language skills. It does not matter to understand the concept. The idea is simple: the more qualified you are, the higher your chance of getting permanent residency.
There are three programs available under the Express Entry umbrella. This infographic highlights the requirements for each, but don't hesitate to follow the link for more details.
You can apply either from abroad or from Canada. Generally speaking, your application will always be processed faster if you are already in Canada. Careful though, you need to be legally allowed to stay in Canada to apply from here! If you come to Canada under a six-month tourist visa, once those six months are up, you are out. And if you are under a tourist visa, you cannot legally work at all during that time.
I considered going through the Express Entry route, but decided against it. First of all, it is more expensive than the route I took and that I’ll share with you shortly. One recognized language test already costs around CAD 300 - times two, because English AND French. That doesn’t take into account medical exams, police certificates and whatever else the Government wants to know about you. It quickly adds up.
There were also other conditions that would have been quite restrictive. For instance, I would have had to work full-time in the same profession for one year. I am confident I would have been able to collect enough hours as a French Teacher within the one-year period I was allocated under my work permit. However, once the year was up, I would have had to wait until I received confirmation of permanent residency to start working again. The process can take up to a year - without employment. As that was what I was trying to avoid in the first place, it did not make sense to me.
No, I needed another solution: family sponsorship. I will go more into details on that path next week, so stay tuned for “My Journey to Permanent Residency - Part 2”.
In the meantime, I’m curious - have you ever had to go through legal immigration processes? If so, what was it like for you?