obtaining pr status for your spouse in Canada
I am Canadian, from a family that can trace its Canadian roots to well before Confederation. My wife is Japanese. Our young son is both. When we recently moved to Canada, I assumed that it would be a simple matter to obtain resident status for my wife.
I was wrong. Filing for permanent residence for my wife turned out to be difficult and stressful. The requirements are demanding; the forms are obtuse; the process is opaque; and the wait times are insane. Behind it all is a fundamentally flawed approach by the government that treats spousal visa applications as an attempt to bring people into the country through marriages of convenience. Guilty until proven innocent. And throughout whatever is to come, my wife's in a waiting game: unable to work; unable to secure health coverage; and unable to leave the country.
where to start?
Right from the outset, it was hard to get a clear picture on the process involved, and which of the avenues we should pursue. After my first sally into this arena, I was not even sure what the objective was: some sort of spoudal visa? Permanent residence? Citizenship? Nor did I understand the starting point in all of this.
Like everyone else starting the process from Japan, I had available to me several sources:
- the visa office at the Canadian embassy in Tokyo (now Manila)
- the website of the Canadian embassy in Tokyo (again, now Manila)
- the official Citizenship and Immigration Canada website
- the forms and guides available for download
- the staff at the CIC call centre
These tended to contradict each other. The forms to be filled in particular seemed not to jibe with the stated goals on the website(s). Eventually, though, some points emerged.
- Unlike the Japanese process by which I'd obtained residence in Japan, there was no "spousal visa"; the goal of the family-class immigration process is permanent residence, embodied in a "permanent resident's card".
- Obtaining P.R. status for my wife would entail both sponsoring her and vowing to support her financially.
- There are two processes by which to sponsor your spouse, the so called "inland" and "outland" processes designed for spouses living in-Canada and outside Canada. Some of the differences are spelled out here.
- To qualify, my wife would require both a health exam and a criminal check done in Canada.
So far, so good. So, too, was the surest route for a Canadian to secure their spouse's sponsorship. I'd have to demonstrate the ability to support my sponsored family financially: I'd need a job in Canada.
Being Canadian, I had several insights that helped.
Naturally, applying from outside the country without a job lined up in Canada was a non-starter. Canada's not an easy place to find work if you don't have recent in-country experience, and as many job-searchers here will tell you, it's nearly impossible to get a response from a would-be employer if you're applying from a remote location. As an example, I'm currently assisting someone at my office in downtown Toronto to fill a job position: the hiring manager won't even consider applicants from as "far away" as the Toronto suburbs of Brampton or Burlington!
Obviously, it made much more sense for me to first find work in Canada. Having a job in a city means moving to that city, so the order of operations was clear:
- get to Toronto
- find a job
- bring Mari and our son
- find a home
- start the application for Mari's P.R.
This meant hinging our success on splitting up for an extended period. And so it was that I left my family on the other side of the globe and took my chances on Toronto's job market. Thanks to my networking in advance, this went well and I landed a job well before I had to return to Canada.
The move to the country went well enough, too. Japanese citizens don't need a visa to enter Canada. We just had to be sure to mention that we had goods that were coming separately.
Finding a home took a full month of course. Doing so in deep snow and sub-zero temperatures wasn't a joy, but we found a place that suited us.
At last we could turn our attentions to the P.R. application.
completing the application
The first 'gotcha' came when the police check back in Japan took nearly two months. If we'd done that portion before leaving Japan, it would have been a ten-day process. Doing so remotely added four-six unexplained weeks to the process.
The whole application hinged on that must-have portion being complete, so we put off the health-check (one of the costs in the process, at $175) and concentrated on the forms.
The forms, as noted above, contradicted the advice I'd had from the various humans I'd spoken to. In fact, they ran strongly against the concept of a Canadian applying to bring his spouse to the country. They are, instead, geared at foreigner-born Canadian "A" proving that he doesn't have other spouses--past or present, either inside Canada or not--while bringing foreigner "B" to the country. There was, for instance, no way in the forms to indicate that as a sponsor I was Canadian from birth. There was also no clear way short of an external letter attached to the applicable form to indicate that our son is already a Canadian citizen. The focus seemed to be "how many children (by parents other than you) is your sponsored spouse bringing to the country?" Again and again, we were asked things like 'who arranged our marriage', 'does your family know about this marriage', and even 'has your spouse met your children'.
As a result, I decided not to simply try to squeeze a meaningful impression of our marriage into the many small boxes on the forms. First I wrote a succinct history of our relationship from the time we met through to the present. This covered our first meetings with each other's families, the birth of our son (what more proof do we need that we're a real couple), the reasons we left Japan (the 2008 financial meltdown was a major factor, as job opportunities in Japan had dried up), vacations we'd taken together, and even our current life together in Canada. I peppered this telling of our history with photos, and attached separate prints of those same photos.
I then supplied a barrage of letters in support of the validity of our marriage, from such sources as:
- good friends in Tokyo who knew Mari and me and could write in English
- my recent business partner
- the bank, stating that we had a joint account
- an uncle who'd spent his career with the Department of Citizenship and Immigration
- the Canadian embassy in Tokyo itself, where I'd served as a warden in the Consular division's emergency response program
- our landlord in Toronto
- the accountant for our (defunct) business in Tokyo
- my current employer in Canada
I can't claim responsibility for the concept of this history and the letters. These ideas I got from a forum that's an excellent resource for people immigrating to Canada: CanadaVisa.com's forum.
As a Canadian citizen, I can understand why the forms are structured to weed out false marriages of convenience. But what I don't appreciate is that the process(es) are as opaque and error-prone as they are. I simply don't know what to expect, having filed the application this morning. I've read so many bewildering stories of legitimate couples who wound up struggling and even withdrawing their attempts at moving to Canada that I don't have a lot of confidence that things will go smoothly.
The hazards for a legitimate spousal sponsorship are two-fold. First, the seemingly-sensible "inland" process is a molasses-slow disaster. An applicant can expect two months to go by before their application is even opened! The first portion of this application process, the approval of the sponsor (a Canadian citizen) takes, in total, ten months. That's up from about six months only a few years ago. The second process, the approval of the sponsored spouse, takes an amount of time that can't be guessed in advance but seems guaranteed to take between eight months and twenty months. And that's on top of the first ten month period. During this entire process, there's no guarantee that the sponsored spouse can ever obtain the right to work, have health care, or even obtain a driver's license. They can't even leave the country while they're waiting. Having one spouse living on hold while months turn into years of waiting seems unacceptable on several counts. The family involved has to live on hold. Meanwhile Canada can't make the most of the sponsored spouse's residence in the country: they can't work; they can't pay tax; they can't take subsidized (and therefore affordable) courses. And if the interminable process fails, it can't be repeated: there's no appeal and no repeat application.
The second hazard is that the "outland" process can require us to make trips back to Japan at arbitrary times for an interview. This is an expense that we'll just have to face when and if it comes up, but the visa offices have been known to repeatedly set and then cancel appointments. And then there's the Catch-22/Kafkaeaque component: if we leave the country during an application it's entirely possible that our departure will sabotage the application. It seems that immigrations officers take it upon themselves to occasionally reject applicants coming and going from the country even when they have visa-free status (e.g. from another wealthy country such as Japan or the UK). But we've decided to chance it, and have settled on the "outland" process as the only sensible one. Better to run into a potential problem with an IO than sign up for a two year crap-shoot!
The process cost us $1400, mostly in fees for the application's processing.
As mentioned, the forms are tricky. As "fillable" PDF's they fail because the actual fields in the PDF's are in places read-only and not "visible". But more importantly, they and the guides are grossly under-explained and the scant explanations often don't jibe with what's going on in the forms. In the coming days, I'll add to this page an explanation of some of the error-prone bits of the immigration forms to help anyone else going through the process.
This is a collection of important notes that I picked up while going through the process of obtaining my wife's permanent residency in Canada.