Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Canadian Immigration: Part I

(This is a series of posts detailing my personal journey from work permit to Canadian citizenship. I've included as many details as I can remember. If you found this post using an internet search for Canadian immigration, or if you are a regular reader who is interested in moving to Canada, please bear in mind that things may have changed since I went through the system, and your situation may be completely different from my own. Please consult the Canadian government's website for more information.)

Part I: the wilderness work permit years

I first decided to move to Canada (and specifically Vancouver) in the summer of 1997. However, having taken advice from a couple of professors at my undergrad institution, I decided to wait until I'd completed my PhD in the UK. That was how I found myself trawling PubMed for recent publications from Vancouver-based labs in the summer of 2001. I wasn't prepared to take just any old post-doc; I had fairly specific ideas about what I'd like to work on, and I also applied to labs in France and the Netherlands. But in my heart of hearts I knew I'd be heading to Vancouver. I ended up with two phone interviews with two different PIs, and one in-person interview with a colleague of my eventual boss, who was on holiday in Scotland and who I met in a cafe in Edinburgh, armed with print-outs of my most recent PowerPoint presentation. Both labs were doing very cool virus-related research, using a mix of familiar and new techniques, and both PIs offered me a job.

I talked to former postdocs from both labs, did some other digging, and chose the group with the best recent and predicted future publication record. I never once regretted this decision, although at the time my PhD supervisor was less than impressed with the geographical restrictions I set on my job search!

Once I'd accepted an offer, it was time for my first encounter with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). I needed a work permit, and duly applied through the Canadian High Commission in London. Everything was done through the mail; I didn't require any interviews, and I remember the whole process being reasonably straightforward and painless. The best part was that, unlike most temporary workers, I didn't need my employer to obtain a labour market opinion to prove that it was necessary to hire a foreigner rather than a Canadian citizen or permanent resident; yes, postdocs and some other academics are exempt from this arduous process! Yay, research! The only stressful part was that they could only process my application so far before I officially passed my PhD viva (defense), and my flight to Vancouver was booked for ten days after that date. But they were obviously accustomed to this situation, and when I faxed them a letter from my institution about ten minutes after my viva ended, they sprang into action and faxed the official letter back to me with a couple of days to spare. (Worried, me? Of course not, it never even crossed my mind to FREAK. OUT.)

Upon arrival at Vancouver airport I presented this letter to immigration and was directed into a special room, where I waited for about 45 minutes (if you're immigrating, don't arrive at 11 pm on a Sunday) before being processed. Again, this was relatively straightforward and painless; I filled in some forms, showed my passport and my immigration paperwork, and was given further forms to apply for a Social Insurance Number (SIN). And that was it - my PI was waiting patiently for me in arrivals, and I started work in her lab the very next morning.

A work permit ties you to a specific job with a specific employer; lose the job, leave the country. My initial contract was for two years with an optional one year extension, and at that point (and again when my PI decided to keep me on for a further six months) I had to apply by mail to an office within Canada to renew my work permit. Again, straightforward, but stressful the first time: the processing times were double what the guidelines on the CIC website said, and my new permit arrived literally on the day the old one expired. The other issue was that temporary workers get temporary SINs and BC healthcare cards, which expire on the same day as the associated permit. It's easy to renew the SIN*, just a short in-person visit and a two week wait. The care card was a different matter entirely; on both occasions I ended up without coverage for a couple of months, and both times I got sick and ended up paying out of pocket ($60, nonrefundable) for a doctor's appointment. I don't know how other provinces handle this aspect of the process.

The real sticking point came when I wanted to change jobs. I'd already applied for permanent residence (see next post in this series) by that time, which worked in my favour, but it was a much longer and more stressful process. I ended up doing the infamous 4am run down to Seattle (the Canadian consulate there is open 8am - 10am) to fast-track my paperwork. This entailed much running-around-downtown-Seattle-like-a-headless-chicken when it transpired that the HR department had given me the wrong forms and I needed additional information, and some non-standard sized photos. But I got it done and returned to Canada in triumph, with the security of permanent residence only a few months away...

...stay tuned!

Part II: resident, permanently is now up

and so is Part III: Citizen Cath


*Best bureaucracy moment EVAH:

Receptionist: "Hello bonjour"
Me: "Hello"
Receptionist: "How can I help you?"
Me: "My SIN has expired"
Receptionist: "Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!"


  1. The long answer is here. The short answer is... everything! The scenery, the people, the sense of just instantly feeling at home here.

  2. The airport thingy sounds like when I arrvied as well ;) I mean, I was a bit nervous about the fact that you didn't know if it was going to be alright until AFTER you passed their inspection at the airport. I mean... duh. At least US sort of gives you the feeling you have it in the bag the first time. (the other times however, another story)

    I arrived the day before New Years 1999/2000. At least it will be awhile before _that_ scare* comes around next time. THe wait was more than 45 mins, let's jsut go with that ;)

    *all computers will die tomorrow. Everything needs to be on paper....

  3. Oh, wow - what bad timing! At least I didn't have to cope with that, just with the fact that only 1 person was working that late!

    My next post will include a story about arriving at the airport unsure of whether I'd be let in or sent straight back to London...

  4. What a hilarious receptionist - I wonder if (s)he uses that joke regularly :)

  5. CAth: well, I had to finish my job, and there there was Christmas and family... and then I needed not to be in the air for New Years and then uni started ;) but it worked out ok. It was more my nerves that took a beating... looking forward reading the next installment

  6. Lisbeth, I suspect it was part of his regular routine! He still looked pretty pleased with himself when I laughed though.

    Chall, it'll appear some time next week probably - I don't want to completely bore the people who have no interest in Canadian immigration!

  7. Oops, that was me, I was signed into the wrong account!

  8. This looks like a great series! (And I see you have a disclaimer at the top.)

  9. Thanks! And yeah, I'm already getting Google hits from people searching for wait times at the Seattle consulate and that kind of thing, as I anticipated. It's probably best to head those people off at the pass before they extrapolate anything from my experiences!

  10. Oh good grief! I read that post, but for some reason, I thought it referred to when you arrived in Canada to start your post-doc. Now I see that it was before. I guess I need to work on my English comprehension. :)

  11. LOL!

    I always assume that people don't read my links at all...


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