Lowering Immigration Stress During Summer

McCarthy Tétrault LLP


McCarthy Tétrault LLP provides a broad range of legal services, advising on large and complex assignments for Canadian and international interests. The firm has substantial presence in Canada’s major commercial centres and in New York City, US and London, UK.
Summer will soon be upon us in Canada. Because of school schedules and the fact that it is difficult to relocate in Winter, especially if originating from a warm climate...
Canada Immigration
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Summer will soon be upon us in Canada. Because of school schedules and the fact that it is difficult to relocate in Winter, especially if originating from a warm climate, many newcomers to Canada arrive in the summer, particularly in the month of August. This means that work permits quite often also expire during the summer or early Autumn. This is also the season of travel and those two realities can sometimes lead to serious complications.

Each year we are contacted by clients and others who have planned vacations for exactly the same time that their work permits expire. Each year it causes many people time, anxiety and sometimes significant costs when they don't know if their documents will be issued in time for them to travel. In some unfortunate cases, travel must even be cancelled, leading to inconvenience, high stress and preventable expenditures. What follows are some high-level suggestions and tips for employers who may be advising their employees about maintaining their work authorization.

Given potential long processing times for work permit renewals, work permit holders may choose to apply for their work permit extensions up to four or five months in advance of their expiry date. This can help to minimize the gap between the expiry date of the current work permit and the issuance date of the new work permit. If they apply after the work permit has expired it is too late, and the employee is out-of-status and in violation of Canadian immigration regulations.

As of writing this article, processing times for work permit extension applications are approximately 96 days. While we cannot fully predict, processing times have a strong chance of increasing as the summer progresses. It should however be noted that processing times for work permit extensions have recently decreased, from a high late last year of about 140 days.

If an applicant is in a situation where they have already applied for their work permit, but a decision has not been made when the work permit expires, the applicant will benefit from "maintained status" or "implied status." This means that the employee retains status to continue working under the conditions of their previously issued work permit until a decision has been made on the pending application. The challenge here is that such status is lost if the applicant exits Canada.

For example, if an applicant is in implied status and leaves Canada to take their family to Disney World for a family vacation before a decision has been made on the work permit application, the application is considered abandoned. If they return to Canada with no additional actions taken, they can only return as visitors, if at all, and would be unable to work in Canada until a new work permit has been obtained. There are ways, particularly with visa-exempt employees entitled to apply for work permits at the port-of-entry, to creatively deal with this situation, however it is best to plan ahead to avoid these complications if possible.

If the applicant is a citizen of a visa requiring country, processing increases even more as the applicant can only apply for a renewed visa after the work permit extension application has been approved. This can add an additional 2-3 weeks of processing time as well as time to courier the passport back and forth to the relevant Immigration Canada office in Ottawa.

We have seen many situations that can turn complex and dramatic. For example, we have observed situations where an applicant has plans to return to their home country to get married in September when their work permit expires in August. Because the process was not started early enough, everyone including the employee, the fiancée, the applicant's manager, the HR business partner, and sometimes even the company CEO are involved trying to find ways to make the system work faster. Everyone ends up holding their breath and crossing their fingers that the documents arrive on time. It can cause so much anxiety for the applicant that their productivity and ability to focus on their work significantly diminishes.

In light of the above, our recommendations for ensuring a less stressful summer vacation are as follows:

  1. Be aware of your work permit expiry date. Put it in your calendar and set an alert to remind you 4-6 months in advance of your expiry date and start the process early.
  2. If you are planning to travel outside of Canada around the time your documents expire, plan to return from the trip before the stated expiry date. Generally speaking, you can usually travel outside of Canada while the extension application is in process, just not after your work permit has expired.
  3. If possible, plan vacations inside Canada around your work permit expiry date. We live in a beautiful country with great places to explore.
  4. Start working on your work permit extension application early so that you can minimize the timeframe in which you are unable to travel internationally.
  5. Employers should work with their legal counsel to strategize early (about 6 months in advance and sometimes longer) about employee expiry dates; this is always of the utmost importance but it is even more sensitive when expiry dates fall during a busy travel season, such as summer.
  6. If you have international travel plans, (especially important ones like a wedding to attend), let your immigration service provider know when the application is initiated so that they can strategize your application accordingly.

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The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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