By Vilma Filici
Toronto. Today I would like to speak about a very important topic for all permanent residents wishing to apply for immigration and Citizenship documents. With the recent policy changes implemented by the government, the process to obtain these documents has become a bit more complicated, so it is imperative that people keep track of their absences from Canada.
When a permanent resident of Canada has to apply for Canadian Citizenship, an extension of his permanent resident card, or a travel document he has to calculate and write down every absence from Canada in order to meet the legal requirements to be issued the document they request. The applicant has to account for every day they were not in Canada from the day they left Canada to the day they returned. They also have to disclose where they went and the reason for the trip. If the person is applying for citizenship they have to go back four years from the date of the application. If they are applying for an extension of their permanent resident card or a travel document, they have to go back five years.
To qualify for Canadian citizenship the applicant must have resided in Canada for a period of 1095 days in the four years preceding the application. If the person is applying to extend their permanent resident card or trying to obtain a travel document they have to show that they have resided in Canada for 730 days in the five years preceding the application. There are exceptions to both these requirements, but I will save the details for another article.
This sound simple enough and is, providing the applicant is not a frequent traveler. If they are not a frequent traveler, the applicant will be able to look at their passport and accurately report their trips outside of Canada. This is not the case for the more frequent traveler. When you look at their passports almost every page contains multiple stamps that represent entering and leaving a multitude of countries. Unfortunately, the officers at ports of entry are not very neat when stamping passports. The stamps do not appear in any chronological order. Looking at those passports and trying to make sense of the stamps becomes a dangerous nightmarish exercise. Accuracy is extremely important in these applications and any miscalculation on the forms could be interpreted as an attempt to deceive the government and could lead to a charge of misrepresentation. Misrepresentation could result in having the application denied, being charged with misrepresentation and in some cases an investigation into the immigration status of the person could be initiated.
Now, while some people may see this concern as being “dramatic” or picky in nature, many persons find themselves unwillingly waiting outside of Canada not able to return to their families and jobs until they prove they meet the residency requirements and obtain their travel document because of these miscalculations . Furthermore, those people whose applications for citizenship have been delayed for years because of mistakes that resulted in long investigations of their status understand the seriousness of accurate reporting of their time outside of Canada. They know the devastating effects of the situation.
One must keep in mind that loss of permanent residence has increased considerably in the last five years. The government is vigilant and more and more Citizenship applicants and people applying for permanent resident cards and travel documents are being investigated to ensure they meet the residency requirements.
Proving that they meet the requirements is particularly cumbersome for people who leave Canada on a holiday and their card expires while they are abroad. When they apply for a travel document to be able to return, it takes a minimum of 3o days for the government to process the document. This thirty day processing time is only observed if there are no complications in the case. If there are complications, the process may take much longer.
Unfortunately, these situations do happen often. The good news is it can be avoided. I am currently dealing with a case where the applicant left Canada on holidays and did not realize that his permanent residence card had expired. He is stuck somewhere in the Caribbean waiting for his permanent resident card. I am also dealing with a citizenship case which is under investigation to verify the residency requirements. In both cases, the client and I spent many hours trying to decipher the stamps in the passports. It is an extremely frustrating exercise and both the client and I are aware of the implications of not being accurate. We did the best we could, but neither the applicants nor I feel comfortable about our deciphered stamp calculations. As counsel our job is to ensure that the client meets the requirements of the regulations and we rely on our client’s recollection of events and facts to prepare the forms and submissions when preparing an application.
Preparing these applications should not be so complicated and the solution is very simple. Once a person becomes a permanent resident they should keep track of every trip outside Canada they take. A friend of mine gives his clients a little booklet as a present when they become permanent residents. The booklet has been designed to track down every time the person exits Canada. They have to write down the date they leave, the place and the reason they left and the date they came back. This is an excellent tool and an excellent idea to be implemented by all permanent residents. If you do not have the booklet, write it on a piece of paper kept in your passport. Keeping track of your absences from Canada will make your life much simpler when applying for your extension of permanent resident card, a travel document or your citizenship.