Canada - So Near, Yet So Far

Date:   Sunday , October 27, 2002

THE LAND OF THE MAPLE LEAF HAS ALWAYS BEEN a lure to the Indian immigrant diaspora. The first move is always to come to the U.S. But if these doors are closed, Canada doesn’t seem too bad a destination. You are still in America, yet you are not in America. One is always caught in a complex relationship with this country, which, at one and the same time, seems so near and, yet, so far away. But now, Canada seems to be holding out olive branches to the large number of speciality workers on the H1-B visa in the U.S. With companies closing shop everyday, a greater number of these visa holders are rendered jobless and legally “out-of-status.” “The realization comes a bit late in the day, but hits as hard,” say Canadian immigration lawyers Janet Bomza and Katrina Knize. “If they were perspicacious enough, this wouldn’t have happened, since they would have had a fall-back of Canadian residency.”

Dream Country

Leading Canadian immigration facilitators, Abrams and Krochak, underline the benefits of working and living in Canada. “While the Canadian dollar is not as strong as the U.S. dollar, it certainly is more stable,” says Abrams. “Canada has been consistently outperforming expectations. While the economy, to some extent, reflects world downturns, the Canadian economy has managed to ride these inflections much better than most leading economies. Companies are still hiring, and the job market, if not booming, is certainly going strong.”

Canada offers free medical coverage for an immigrant family, and free schooling until high school. Knize, Abrams, and Bomza also emphasize the low costs of university education, which they claim, is far lower than those in the U.S. Adding to this string of advantages are strong social pluses, like low cost of living, good housing, safe neighborhoods, very low crime rates, and a very immigrant-tolerant society. Mild summers, glorious winters, and pristine landscapes contribute to the making of a dream country. The Canadian government is also pushing the boundaries of occupied territories which, the lawyers feel, will only increase employment opportunities. “As the need for infrastructure facilities in these new areas increase, demand for skilled technologists, entrepreneurs, and service providers will increase. This is, perhaps, the only country that is growing in these times,” remarks Knize.

Raising The Bar

The lawyers warn that immigration is not as easy as it was even three years back. “The laws have changed,” says Bomza, “and these changes affect the immigration potential of candidates. For instance, the small family business category has been cancelled, which renders many applications void,” says Knize. The Canadian immigration process, which works on a point-grade system, has increased the minimum number of points to 75, from the previous 70. “There is also pressure on the single-status candidate, as the point system discriminates against unmarried applicants,” points out Abrams.

“While the process is black and white, we, the lawyers, have the advantage of defining the grey areas, and can argue for each application based on the circumstances,” points out Knize. Bomza adds that the laws for residency have also changed. The previous stipulation of six months in every calendar year, which was required to maintain residency, has been changed to a flexible two out of five years. And every month of residency can be added up to make up the required 24 months.

H1-B Advantage

Canada makes it easier for U.S. H1-B speciality visa holders to cut through the immigration red-tape on some issues like English fluency, education certification, and so on. Apparently, this hastens the process and serves as a good back-up for H1-B visa holders in case their U.S. sponsors renege on the contract. The lawyers point out that the H1-B visa holder is still in the Americas, and doesn’t have to worry about trans-continental relocation, as Canada is “across the border.” The residency can be obtained in as short a period as six months, and can lead to citizenship in three years. With the job market still “booming,” the lawyers claim that U.S. work experience counts well in the resume assessment. And once a Canadian greencard is issued, the citizen can step across into the U.S. on a NAFTA-permitted work permit to work in the U.S.

Reality Check

And why isn’t everybody rushing to take advantage of this seemingly attractive and viable process? According to some lawyers, the primary reasons are that the job market is tough and that opportunities exist in other territories. While Canadian immigration officials vehemently deny the presence of racism, there have been authentic cases of racism, where job offers were lost due to skin color. For an Indian immigrant, this would seriously dampen interest in Canadian residency. Also, many H1-B visa holders have managed to scoot into the U.S. with a basic college education and some short-term computer courses under their belt. These don’t measure up in a resume-building exercise, and the higher rate of rejection is a formidable hurdle. While a Canadian education could be well-priced, it doesn’t rank high in importance for the potential immigrant, who sees this process as a route to earning “better salaries.”

Apparently, the number of Indian immigrants to Canada is growing. Whether this spike is a consequence of the U.S. downturn or a growing interest in beautiful Canada, only time will tell. Until then, the maple leaf country will be so near, yet remain so far away.