By Zeynab Ziaie
Up to 300,000 people come to Canada as “immigrants” each year. When immigrants enter Canada for the first time, or “land” in Canada, they are processed and their information is taken to issue them with a permanent resident card. What is the legal status of immigrants and what are their legal rights and obligations as residents allowed to live permanently in Canada? No matter how welcoming the immigration officer at the airport or border is, there is no time for him or her to explain the intricacies of the immigration system to each new immigrant.
So what is your status as a permanent resident in Canada? In an effort to help you to better understand your status, below is a summary of the key points that immigrants must understand about their legal status in Canada, their rights and what they must do to maintain their status.
Immigrants to Canada are granted “permanent resident” or “PR” status when they land in Canada. However, they remain citizens of other countries.
Court cases over the past thirty years have established that PRs of Canada are protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and are granted most of the same rights and freedoms, such as the right to life, liberty and security, equal treatment under the law, and so on. This means being free to choose where you want to live and what you do with your life in Canada. PRs also have the right to get most social benefits that Canadian citizens receive, including health care (e.g. OHIP coverage when you meet the provincial requirements). And once you meet the conditions, as a PR you may apply to become a Canadian citizen.
There are also a few critical limitations on PRs in terms of engagement in civic life in Canada. Only Canadian citizens are permitted to vote or run for public office, and hold certain jobs that require a high-level security clearance. In return for the rights and privileges that you enjoy as a PR, you are required to respect all Canadian laws (federal, provincial and municipal). And unlike citizens, whose status as citizens is protected unless in cases where the citizenship was obtained by fraud, PRs can more easily lose their permanent residence status. For example, not meeting the residency obligation or being convicted for a serious criminal offence may result in you losing your PR status.
Proof of Legal Status and Losing your PR Status
One of the biggest misconceptions is that when your PR Card expires you lose your PR status in Canada. PRs of Canada are issued with PR Cards and must carry their valid PR Card (or a PR Travel Document) when travelling to Canada by air or any other commercial carrier. However, a valid PR Card, or lack thereof, is not determinative of your status as a PR in Canada.
You can only lose your PR status if you go through an official process. For example if you apply to renew your PR card or apply for a PR Travel Document but do not meet the conditions, an adjudicator can determine that you are no longer a PR after an inquiry or appeal. Even if you did not meet the residency obligation for maintaining your PR status, you are still a PR until an official decision is made with regards to your status. Alternatively, you may renounce your PR status if no longer want to be a PR. And finally, once you become a citizen your legal status changes from PR to citizen.
Your Role in Maintaining your Legal Status
It is up to you to know your legal status and make efforts to maintain it. Being unfamiliar with the law or acting on incorrect information gathered from family or friends, or even unqualified representatives, is not an accepted defence to not adhering to the law. The consequence of losing your status can result in you being removed from Canada. All the more reason for you to be proactive in maintaining your legal status in Canada.
Coming Next …
In the coming weeks I will explore the issues surrounding permanent residency including conditions and requirements when applying to renew PR cards, understanding residency obligations and what to do if you face a negative decision with regards to your PR status in Canada.
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Zeynab Ziaie is a graduate of the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto and a lawyer licensed to practice in Ontario and New York. Her legal practice focuses on immigration and business law. She often works with clients to find suitable solutions in complex immigration and citizenship cases and represents clients at all levels of court.