My Journey to Permanent Residency - Part 2
Updated: Dec 10, 2019
If you have not read “My Journey to Permanent Residency - Part 1”, let me invite you to before you continue. It will give you context for what’s next.
Last week, I was talking to you about temporary residency programs and permanent residency via Express Entry Programs. All the programs and avenues I touched on were based on economic motivations - both for the State of Canada and for immigrants. Today, I would like to talk about non-economic immigration.
It is important to differentiate economic immigration from non-economic immigration. An economic migrant is someone who travels from one country or area to another in order to improve their standard of living. Non-economic migrants usually refer to refugees, protected persons, and stateless persons.
I was not a refugee. There is no war being waged in Belgium. I was not persecuted, or threatened by the State. I certainly do not qualify as a protected person. At the same time, I would not be considered an economic immigrant per se either. I settled in Canada partly because I wanted to live and work there, but that was not my main motivation - as cheesy as it sounds, my main motivation was love.
However, legal immigration does not deal with feelings. Legal immigration might advertise itself as benevolent, as a helping hand for those in need, but let’s be honest here. Countries would not allow immigration if they did not receive some kind of benefit from it. Legal immigration first’s goal is economic. I might have decided to move for sentimental reasons, but the State still needs to benefit from it. Otherwise, well, it just would not welcome me. But how exactly does Canada benefit from family immigration programs?
Most countries, Canada included, share similar family values. Families are at the core of human interaction and are highly valuable to States. A citizen with a strong familial support will turn to them in times of need. A citizen without any support system will have to rely on the State.
The development of the welfare state comes from this very idea: some people do not have access to family support in moments of need. They have no one to turn to should they lose their job or should they get sick. States have thus developed programs to support vulnerable individuals. The State took on a role previously held by families. Although nowadays everyone *has* access to welfare support, not everyone will rely on it. More often than not, someone will turn to their family first. Therefore a citizen with a strong family support system should cost less money to the State than an isolated individual. Families are valuable.
As humans, we understand the importance of social bonds and the proximity of family members. The State also understands that overall, two family members together will cost less than if they are separated. As such, it comes as no surprise that States would allow family members to live together if one of them has the right to live in the country.
Canada created a specific Non-Economic Classes or Family Class to process those types of applications. More specifically, Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada can sponsor the following members of their family: spouse, common-law partner or conjugal partner (opposite or same-sex), dependent children, parents, grand-parents, children adopted from abroad, and under specific circumstances, other relatives.
Sponsorship under the Family Class has a different intent from the Express Entry Programs I mentioned in last week’s post. A candidate under an Express Entry Program is asked to prove their economic worth. The State wants to know whether the applicant will be a contributing member of society - in other words, whether they will pay taxes. On the other hand, "the intent of the family class immigration program is to reunite Canadian citizens and permanent residents with close family members. By undertaking to support sponsored members of the family class, the sponsor promises that, for a specified duration, they will provide for the basic needs of their family members so they do not have to rely on social assistance."
Remember when I was talking about economic motivation? A Canadian citizen or permanent resident that sponsors a family member will be financially responsible for that family member so the State does not have to. The State literally transfer its social responsibility to the applicant’s family - and that is how the Government of Canada can justify family reunion programs.
The requirements for Family Sponsorship are different from the Express Entry Programs. The system is not based on points. The State will not ask for your qualifications or work experience. What matters to the State is that you are an actual member of a Canadian family, because family is likely to provide for you in times of need.
That is the route I decided to take to obtain my permanent residency. It is totally specific to my own situation and will not apply to everyone. My reality is that my partner is Canadian and we wanted to live in Canada. The State of Canada recognizes this situation as warranting to grant me permanent residency. I therefore applied under the Spouse or Common-Law Partner in Canada Class.
My partner and I are not married, but Canada allows unmarried couples to qualify for Family Sponsorship. Couples must however qualify as common-law partners. The definition of common-law partners, or conjoints de fait, varies between countries. For the Canadian Government, a common-law partnership means that a couple have lived together for at least one year in a conjugal relationship.
It is however very important to stress that a common-law relationship exists from the day on which two individuals can provide evidence to support their cohabitation in a conjugal relationship. My partner and I have lived together for almost the entirety of our relationship. However, when we decided to immigrate to Canada in early 2017, we had no evidence to prove our cohabitation. Without it, we would not have been able to qualify. The Canadian Government was not going to take our word for it. That's why (at least partly) we decided to live in Europe for over a year before we made our move to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
We used that time to build the application. Our goal was documentation. Our first step was to register my partner at the same address that I was registered at. That first step was crucial. It determined the exact date we legally became cohabitants, and would thus set the date we would officially be able to prove our common-law partnership.
We took other steps, because the greater the evidence, the better. Once we found an apartment, we made sure both our names were on the lease agreement. Our bills, health insurances, and bank accounts were all opened with the same address on file. I also obtained police certificates and a household composition document from the City Hall. A step I didn’t think of, but that could have been useful, would have been to register as common-law partners in Belgium already. As I mentioned, requirements vary between countries, so I am not sure we would have qualified, but it could have been used as additional evidence.
Once we moved to Canada, we continued on the same line. We opened joint bank accounts. We set up bills to be invoiced to both of us rather than to one or the other. We added each other as legal partners on our health insurances. We put each other as emergency contact and beneficiary in case of an accident. I even exchanged my Belgian driver's license for a Canadian one so that it would match my partner’s.
That was not all. The Canadian Government is thorough. Cohabitation is only one part of a relationship. I was asked to provide pictures that was portraying our relationship; letters from family and friends; bank statements that proved financial support between us. The whole process feels like an invasion of your privacy. It opens a door that is usually close or reserved for closed ones. I still complied.
I also had to provide a complete background check. I was basically asked to relate what I had been up to for the last ten years - where I lived, what I did for a living and any other pertinent event. I remember I almost cried when they asked me to list all the times I left Belgium since I turned 18. The PDF form crashed because I tried to type too many entries. In the end, I didn't even send a complete list because I just couldn’t remember it all. I added a letter explaining that I did not include travelling within the Schengen Area - the European Union’s zone of free movement - because there was no way for me to document that.
By the time I had collected enough evidence, my application was over 100 pages long.
The Department estimates that the application process under the Spouse or Common-Law Partner in Canada Class takes up to 12 months. They start by reviewing the sponsor eligibility. Once it has been approved, the Department reviews the background information provided by the applicant. The applicant is then asked to take a medical exam. You know you are reaching the end of the application process when they ask you for police certificates, as it is usually the last step.
My application took about six months - so half the time estimated. During that time, I barely heard anything from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada. It was a stressful period. Time passes and you have no idea whether things are looking good - or not. Sometimes, a letter will be sent, asking for additional information or to complete a task such as taking a medical exam. The rest of the time, it’s radio silence.
It was only once my police certificates were submitted that things picked up. I was invited for a final interview to verify my identity and confirm my status. The interview was hassle-free and took less than 10 minutes - waiting time excluded. I answered a couple of questions, gave my passport and pictures, and signed a bunch of documents. A couple of weeks later, I received my new Permanent Resident Card through the mail.
Legal immigration processes are burdensome, lengthy, and oh so costly. You are required to pay sponsorship fee ($75), principal applicant processing fee ($475) and right of permanent residence fee ($490), plus work permit extension fee ($255). On top of that, you will be asked to take a full medical exam - not refundable through your health insurance. Most official and/or certified documents also come with their own fees, which vary depending on the country.
Is this fair?
I don't think so. Not everyone will have that amount of money readily available. You need (financial) resources, time and patience. You need to be proactive and to anticipate what will be asked of you. I didn’t enjoy the process. Just thinking that I will most probably have to go through it again in a couple of years to obtain citizenship makes me disheartened.
I still did it. And I can now say, with pride in my heart, that I am a Permanent Resident of Canada. Worth it? A hundred percent. Do I want to do it again? Hell no!