I wrote last week about the increase in the number of visitor visas being issued by Canada over the past three years. These include visas for tourists, those coming to visit family members as well as business visitors, all of whom receive the same “visitor visa”.
Being new to the Canadian legal system, many visitors have questions about what they can do as visitors in Canada and the limitations on their visas. While each case is unique, below are the top 5 questions I am frequently asked by visitors to Canada:
1- Should I buy travel insurance?
YES! One of the key criteria in assessing your visitor visa application is your financial ability (as well as the ability of any person inviting you) to pay any expenses related to your trip. This is because visitors are not permitted to use public services in Canada such as free health care.
As a visitor to Canada you will not be covered by the public health insurance system and must either have private health coverage or pay for the medical coverage you receive from a doctor or hospital. You should look into getting emergency travel insurance and speak with an experienced insurance broker in Canada to find the best possible insurance plan before you travel to Canada.
2- How long can I remain in Canada with a visitor visa?
Typically when you enter Canada you will be allowed to remain for up to 6 months. In some circumstances, if the officer at the border determines that you should leave Canada before 6 months he or she may determine an earlier departure date. If they require you to leave earlier than 6 months the departure date will be written on the Canada date stamp in your passport.
If you need to remain in Canada beyond 6 months, we may be able to apply to extend your stay. We will need to prove why you need to remain longer and also that you have the financial resources to cover any expenses in the remaining time you will be in Canada.
It is very important to carefully keep track of the dates that you travel to Canada and ensure that you depart before the end of your visa. Remaining beyond the validity of your visa may make you inadmissible for future entry or in future applications for visas or permanent residence.
In instances where someone has overstayed their visa and lost their legal status they should consult an experienced lawyer immediately to find out how they can restore their status. It will be crucial to act quickly because the window of opportunity to restore your legal status is very limited and once it is gone things will undoubtedly become much more complicated.
I am sometimes asked if it is possible to get around the 6 month deadline by exiting Canada and re-entering Canada a few days or weeks later if you hold a multiple entry visitor visa. While there is nothing in the Immigration laws and regulations that prevents a person from re-entering with a visitor visa you should be mindful that every time you enter Canada your eligibility is checked and reaffirmed by the border officer. You must be able to convince the officer as to the purpose of your trip, your ability to support yourself and that you are a genuine visitor and not someone who is living in Canada with a visitor visa. The border officer can ask to see proof of your ongoing eligibility as a visitor and will likely do so if your pattern of travel gives rise to a suspicion that you are not visiting for a short period but rather intending to effectively live in Canada.
3- Can I study or work while I am in Canada with a visitor visa?
NO! When you receive a visitor visa you are only allowed to visit and cannot study or work in Canada. Visitor visas are intended for those who are traveling to Canada for a short period of time and are not intended for someone who wants to remain in Canada for long periods of time. As such, you are not permitted to study or work with a visitor visa.
The only exemption to this rule is if you want to participate in a short-term course of study that is less than 6 months in duration. In such a case you do not require a study permit and can participate in the course with your visitor visa.
A continuation of this question is: Can I turn my visitor visa to a study visa or work visa?
There is no automatic mechanism to convert a visitor visa to a study or work visa. In order to obtain either a study or work visa you will need to meet all the requirements for those visas (e.g. have an acceptance from a college or university or have a valid job offer from a Canadian employer) and generally need to apply for the visa from outside of Canada. If you are from a country that requires fingerprints, you will need to travel outside of Canada to provide your fingerprints (even if you previously provided fingerprints as part of your visitor visa application).
4- Can my visitor visa become a permanent residence status if I buy a house, have a child born in Canada or live here for a period of time?
NO! In order to become a permanent resident, you have to meet the criteria for one of the immigration programs in Canada. There are no limitations on who can buy property in Canada, although some areas such as Ontario and British Columbia now have additional taxes for non-residents due to the perceived effect of foreign buyers on rising home prices. However, Canada does not grant permanent residence to anyone who chooses to buy property in Canada.
It is also true that Canada generally grants citizenship to children born in Canada, irrespective of their parents’ visa status. However, the grant of citizenship to a child does not bring any additional rights for other family members to remain in Canada or qualify for permanent residence.
A modified version of this question is: Can my visitor visa status become a work permit if I set up or purchase a business in Canada?
In some cases, the answer may be yes depending on your circumstances, your prior experience that would be of benefit in developing the business in Canada, and how that business can benefit Canada. It is important to note that if you are able to do this you will obtain a work permit and if you wish to remain in Canada permanently you will still need to qualify under one of Canada’s immigration programs.
5- What are your options for becoming a permanent residence?
The answer depends on your unique circumstances and whether you are able to meet the requirements of one of Canada’s current immigration programs. These programs include, but are not limited to: the Federal Skilled Worker Program, Federal Skilled Trades Program, Canadian Experience Class, Start-up Visa Program, Self-employed Program, Caregiver Classes, Provincial Nominee Programs or Quebec Selected Immigrant.
Each of these programs has different requirements in terms of education, experience, language ability and so on that you must meet in order to qualify.
And remember while a permanent residence application is separate from your visitor application, the information you provided in your visitor visa application is part of your immigration record. If you “simplified” information or chose not to provide certain information as part of your visitor visa application, such as not declaring your education, work history or family members, then you may be at risk of a finding of misrepresentation. A finding of misrepresentation can lead to the canceling of your visitor visa, removal from Canada and a ban on you being able to submit an application for visa or permanent residence for a number of years. You should consult with an experienced immigration lawyer to assess your situation and determine the steps you need to take to rectify any mistakes that may have been previously made.
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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.