Northern Exposure

Permanent Immigration from United States to Canada

By Gilda Villaran

How can an American resident become a Canadian citizen? Only permanent residents of Canada can apply. Therefore, one must start with applying for permanent resident status. There are various ways to become a permanent resident of Canada. This article will focus on those who apply in the “economic class.”

For those applying in the economic class, there are federal programs that are applicable across Canada as well as provincial programs that may facilitate the process.

The first question to be asked is what Canadian province is the American resident’s destination? If it’s Québec, the procedure has to start with Québec Immigration, which issues a Québec Selection Certificate. Québec has its own requirements and selection grids. A person can be selected in the Québec economic class either as a skilled worker, entrepreneur, self-employed person, or investor.

After Québec has selected the person as an immigrant to the province, he or she can submit an application for permanent residence to the Canadian federal government. The latter’s role in these cases is in practice limited to verifying that the person isn’t inadmissible either on medical or criminal grounds.

The role of the other provinces in the selection of individuals for immigration has increased dramatically in recent years. There are Provincial Nominee Programs in 11 out of the 12 other provinces and territories (the only exception being Nunavut). The Provincial Nominee Programs are responsive to the specific goals and manpower needs of the respective province or territory. This allows the fast-tracking of appropriate applications.

The provincial nominee programs outside Quebec aren’t mandatory and coexist with the federal programs.

Each province has its own rules and eligibility requirements. For instance, it’s possible to apply for a nomination by the province of British Columbia in the following categories: strategic occupations (which include skilled workers, recent international graduates, entry-level or semiskilled workers in select occupations, etc.) and business immigration.

Alberta’s nominee program applies to skilled workers, semiskilled workers in eligible occupations, international graduates, and self-employed farmers among others.

The Ontario program includes the International Student Category and the General Category. The latter helps Ontario employers bring in foreign skilled workers when they have difficulty finding them locally. It also allows investors to recruit foreign workers in a managerial, professional, or skilled trade occupation.

It’s also possible to apply under the economic class of the federal program. It applies to skilled workers, investors, entrepreneurs, and self-employed-persons. It also applies to members of the Canadian Experience Class. The latter includes those who have worked legally in Canada for two years and those who are graduates of Canadian universities and eligible institutes and possess one year of work experience in Canada.

The Federal Skilled Worker class, which is the biggest federal program, was severely restricted in November 2008 to reduce the huge backlog of 900,000 pending applications. At that time, Ministerial Instructions were issued to limit eligibility to applicants who had received an offer of arranged employment from a Canadian employer, those who were living in Canada for one year as a temporary foreign worker or international student, and those with at least one year of experience under one or more of 38 occupations listed by Immigration Canada.

These Ministerial Instructions can be changed at any time. Indeed, in June 2010, the stay-in-Canada category was eliminated. That category shouldn’t be confused with the Canadian Experience Class, which continues to exist. The list of admissible occupations was reduced to 29, and a maximum of 1,000 applications yearly worldwide for each occupation was introduced.

Since last June, all applicants under the Federal Skilled Worker program need to pass a standardized test of English or French in order to obtain the necessary points for language. The language test requirement also applies to applicants under the Canadian Experience Class.

The differences between these various programs can be confusing. Deciding whether one can or should apply under one or another program is an exercise that must be carefully thought out. The criteria and the pros and cons of each should be considered.  Good immigration lawyers can help immensely.