How you can move to Canada from the U.S.

Shelby Thevenot, Alexandra Miekus
Published: November 3, 2020

Every year, many people come to Canada from the U.S., whether it is for school, family, work, or the opportunity to start a new life.

In 2019 alone, the U.S. was the fifth most popular country of origin of new Canadian immigrants. Those in the U.S. are well-positioned to immigrate to Canada through an economic-class program, due to their fluency in English, which is a huge asset when applying for Canadian immigration.

Furthermore, the travel restrictions with the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic are not as strict as those imposed on residents of other countries. For example, U.S. residents who obtained their confirmation of permanent residence after March 18 are exempt from the travel restrictions, which is not the case for nationals of other countries.

Under its new 2021-2023 Immigration Levels Plan, Canada intends to welcome over 400,000 new permanent residents.

Find out if you’re eligible for Canadian immigration

Here are some of the ways U.S. residents and citizens can make Canada their new home:

Immigrate through the Express Entry system

Canada’s Express Entry system is a world-renowned immigration selection system. The U.S. is the second-leading source country of those who immigrate to Canada through Express Entry.

Many economic-class immigrants choose the Express Entry route for faster processing, which is about six months. Also, many people presume that it is relatively “easy” to enter the Express Entry pool, and get an invitation to apply for permanent residence, or a Provincial Nominee Program (PNP).

While it’s true you don’t necessarily need a job or a job offer to get into the Express Entry system, it is not “easy” to receive an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for many people.

Express Entry uses a Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) to award points based on an immigration candidate’s human capital, which includes age, language ability in English or French, work experience, and education.

The weight of each of these factors is determined by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). They are in part a reflection of Canada’s immigration priorities, the labour market, and other factors that the government decides are important in a successful integration into Canadian society. In fact, Canada recently announced that more points would be awarded to French-speaking Express Entry candidates in an effort to promote more French immigration outside of Quebec.

Get a Free Express Entry Assessment

Express Entry is not a program per-se, rather it is an application management system for federal immigration programs like the Federal Skilled Worker Program, Federal Skilled Trades Program, and the Canadian Experience Class. Some PNPs also select candidates from the Express Entry pool of applicants.

Candidates who are eligible for one of these programs are given a CRS score out of 1,200. Most draws require candidates to have a score of at least 470 or more in order to receive an ITA.

Most candidates, however, fall into the 300 to 450 range. This is where PNPs can help Express Entry candidates with fewer CRS points.

Provincial Nominee Programs, an alternative to Express Entry

Most Canadian provinces and territories have a PNP that is aligned with Express Entry, which are referred to as “enhanced PNPs.” The province of Quebec has its own immigration system, and Nunavut does not have a PNP.

The rest have their own enhanced PNPs and “base PNPs” that operate independently from Express Entry. These base PNPs are typically reserved for people who have already established connections in the province or territory, whether it’s work experience, completed education, or family. You can apply to these streams directly, and at the same time you can also have a profile in the Express Entry system.

Enhanced PNPs typically invite Express Entry candidates who have filled out an Expression of Interest to the province, and who have some qualities that the province determines will be beneficial to the regional labour market. This could be in the form of work experience in an in-demand occupation, for example.

If you are invited to apply for a provincial nomination, it means that the province has decided that you would be a good candidate for their immigration program, and you are one step closer to permanent residence. If you get the provincial nomination through an enhanced program, you automatically get an additional 600 CRS points added to your Express Entry score, which effectively guarantees you will receive an ITA in a subsequent Express Entry draw.

Get a Free Canadian Immigration Assessment

“What if I just want to work in Canada?”

There are dozens of options for U.S. residents and citizens to work as temporary residents in Canada.

U.S. citizens, specifically, get four extra options through CUSMA to work in Canada. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you are exempt from giving biometrics in work and study permit applications.

The type of work permit you need depends on the type of work you’ll be doing. If you are just transferring within the same company to a branch office in Canada, you may be able to do so as an Intra-Company Transfer.

Certain tech occupations, and companies, will allow you to move to Canada in about four weeks through the Global Talent Stream.  The hiring process under this fast-track program involves meeting certain requirements, such as completing a Labour Market Assessment (LMIA), commitment to certain salary requirements, among others.

There is also a divide in Canadian work permits between those that require LMIAs and those that do not. Employment and Social Development Canada will give employers a neutral or positive LMIA if officers are satisfied that there are no Canadians available to do the job.

However, there are certain LMIA-exempt occupations that do not require Canadian employers to go through the LMIA process. Among other scenarios, this may apply to people whose presence in Canada would provide a significant social or cultural benefit to the country.

If you live in the U.S., email Senior Attorney Daniel Levy for a free work permit consultation

“I want to study in Canada.”

If you decide that studying in Canada is the right choice, the next step is to explore the different program options, make a selection and send in your application. In most cases, international students who wish to study at a Canadian institution of higher learning must provide a letter of acceptance from a Designated Learning Institution when applying for a Canadian study permit.

After your application has been accepted, you will receive a letter of acceptance and will be able to apply for a study permit. The study permit will allow you to legally study in Canada.

Once you have completed your studies and graduated from a Designated Learning Institution, you can stay in Canada on a Post-Graduation Work Permit. This permit will allow you to work full time for any employer and move from student to professional status. One year of work experience in Canada will give you a significant advantage in terms of eligibility for immigration programs. It will also allow you to score higher on the CRS and have a better chance of being selected for permanent residence through the Express Entry system.

“I have family in Canada, can they sponsor me for immigration?”

Canadian citizens and permanent residents can sponsor their spouse or common-law partner for permanent resident status. Both the sponsoring Canadian and the sponsored person must be approved by IRCC in order for the sponsored person to immigrate to Canada. In order to get a visa under this immigration program, the sponsor and the sponsored person must prove that their relationship qualifies under one of these three categories: Spouse; Common-Law Partner; Conjugal Partner. The processing standard for spousal sponsorship applications in Canada is about 12 months from the date the application is received.

Complete a Free Canadian Family Sponsorship Eligibility Assessment

Moving to Canada during the coronavirus pandemic

Because of the shared border and the importance of trade between the two countries, the travel restrictions on U.S. residents and citizens are more lenient in comparison with other countries. Basically, travellers need a non-optional, non-discretionary reason to come to Canada during the pandemic. Border officers will turn away anyone coming for tourism, recreation, or entertainment.

First, and foremost, if you have coronavirus symptoms do not travel to Canada. It says right in the Order in Council that border officers will not let you in if you have a fever and a cough, or breathing difficulties.

U.S. travellers are exempt from the travel restrictions if they are:

Even if you don’t have symptoms, or are exempt from travel restrictions, all new arrivals to Canada must quarantine for 14 days. This can only be waived if you are coming to Canada for compassionate reasons, and you apply for the exemption in advance.

Canada offers the ArriveCan app that is meant to speed up border crossings. Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers have the final say on who can travel to Canada. They will want to see that you are asymptomatic, have a quarantine plan, and are coming to Canada for an essential reason. If you have questions for crossing the border, the CBSA offers a number of methods to contact them for general information.

Find out if you’re Eligible for Canadian immigration

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