"Phantom’ Residents To Lose Status

Phantom' residents to lose status

Cut-off looms for workers in Gulf states who have Canadian landed status but don't actually live here

Oct 14, 2007 04:30 AM
Nicholas Keung
Immigration/Diversity Reporter

As the first of Canada's new Permanent Resident cards hit their expiry date, immigrants who haven't spent the required length of time in Canada 730 days out of five years face losing their landed status in the next few months.

The looming cut-off means hundreds, perhaps thousands, of “phantom” residents some of whom settled their families here and then went back to well-paying jobs in China, India or the Middle East's Gulf states will be out of luck.

A large number of them came through a single Canadian visa office: Abu Dhabi.

A government internal report estimates that a whopping 98 per cent of “permanent residents” processed in Abu Dhabi, which serves the Gulf region, had no intention of remaining in Canada after their initial landing.

Currently, 80 per cent of the permanent resident travel applications in the United Arab Emirates capital are for people who have failed the residency requirement.

As a result, they must return to Canada to appeal the revocation of their status.

“Unless something major happens in the region to make the Gulf less attractive for expat workers, there is not a pool of professionals who are serious about settling in Canada,” notes the mission's annual overview, obtained under the access to information process.

“The high application rate is related to what Canada can do for them, not the other way around.”

Since its June 2002 launch, the PR card, often called the Maple Leaf card, has become official proof of landed status for Canada's permanent residents, who must carry it to re-enter Canada on a commercial carrier (airplane, boat, train or bus).

The wallet-sized plastic card, which must be renewed every five years, was introduced after 9/11 to increase border security and improve the integrity of the immigration process.

It supplements the old IMM 1000, which allowed landed immigrants to return to Canada within an unspecified time span.

Under the new policy, those who don't meet the residency requirement by the card's expiry date will be stripped of their landed status.

Figures aren't available for the number of lapsed PR cards, but a Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokesperson said the department and the Canada Border Services Agency have systems in place to detect fraudulent documents.

The PR card situation mirrors the phenomenon of Hong Kong parents who deposited their children in Canada during the anxious run-up to China's 1997 takeover.

And it reignites the debate over how much time today's highly mobile skilled immigrants should spend in Canada to earn and keep resident status an issue that flared last summer, when millions were spent to rescue Canadian citizens and permanent residents from Lebanon during the Israeli bombardment.

“It irks me with their absence of contributions to our country,” says Quebec immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who obtained the Abu Dhabi report.

“They are basically using the PR status as an insurance passport without living in Canada, so their kids can be exempted from foreign-student tuition fees and their spouses (in Canada) can get the GST credits.”

News that PR cards are being revoked has been trickling in over the past few months. Kurland predicts it will get worse as more people try to return to renew them (renewals can be issued only in Canada).

Dubai-based Canadian immigration lawyer Carter Hoppe has been getting calls regularly from expatriates working in the Gulf.

Hoppe says today's “best and brightest” immigrants are different from those of the past, who wanted to stay permanently. Unlike the old rules, which stipulated that newcomers must spend half of each year in Canada, the new ones give people more time to decide what Hoppe calls a “trial engagement.”

“I don't think permanent residents who don't reside full-time and work full-time in Canada, and may even end up abandoning their PR status, are abusing anything at all,” Hoppe argues. “That sort of thinking about immigrants is very much a 20th-century view and completely outmoded in today's global human capital marketplace.”

According to the government report, Canadian resident status is especially attractive to South Asian expatriates who don't want to return to the developing world after living in the Gulf countries, where they can get work permits but find it almost impossible to obtain citizenship. (Typically, residence of 30 years is required even to apply.)

However, many, already working in middle-management jobs, are turned off by poor job prospects in Canada, where employers demand Canadian experience and hard-to-get credentials. Plus, they pay no income tax in the Gulf states.

To make things worse, immigration consultants abroad lure clients with promises of settlement assistance and help obtaining drivers' licences, social insurance, health and bank cards with only a minimal absence from their Gulf jobs. “Many immigrants took permanent residence as a means to obtain a subsidized university education for their children while the parents remained abroad, an opportunity for a better passport, a place to go if they cannot stay in the Gulf at retirement, or war breaks out,” the annual report says. “All this may become a bigger issue for Canada if thousands of Canadians working in the Gulf, many of whom either stayed in Canada the minimum time possible, if at all, decide to return to Canada in their later years to utilize social programs.”

Toronto immigration lawyer Gregory James says people who fail the residency requirement and are turned back at a port of entry can apply for a “permanent resident travel document” at local visa offices abroad, though there's no guarantee it will be granted.

Those denied PR card renewal could appeal to the Immigration Appeal Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board, which is already facing a growing backlog because of Ottawa's slow pace in appointing qualified adjudicators.

A spousal sponsorship could work if one partner has already spent sufficient time in Canada to qualify. In the worst-case scenario, skilled immigrants can reapply from scratch.


Renewing the residency card

Cards issued since 2002 : 2.2 million

Cardholders who become citizens within four years: 60-75%

Projected renewals July 2007 to March 2008: 77,500

Renewal applications received to date: 13,819

Processing time: 6-8 weeks

Renewal requirement: Must be physically present in Canada for at least 730 days (the equivalent of two years) in every five-year period.

Exemptions: People working full-time overseas for Canadian companies or governments, or accompanying a Canadian spouse abroad, or with compelling humanitarian or compassionate reasons, may be exempted.

Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada