North Star Immigration Law update: with a side of salt and vinegar chips

Apparently time flies when you’re practicing immigration law! We were in Guadeloupe then I blinked and now it’s Halloween.

Nova Scotia continues to chart new territory with new immigration streams such as:

  • Occupations in Demand: truck drivers and nurse’s aides– these are NOC C jobs which normally require 6-months experience with the NS employer before being eligible for the Skilled Worker Stream, which usually meant a LMIA. Now you can apply on the strength of the job offer, no need for the 6 months of work.
  • NS Physician Stream 2.0: You can get PR in about 6 months in the new stream  (versus 2 years in the other one) but to qualify for the new program, physicians need 3 extra things: Educational Credential Assessment, Language Test and a Return of Service Agreement with the provincial health authority (basically saying you’ll stay and practice in NS for a number of years after you become a PR)*
  • What the AIPP? in all this brouhaha about the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program, no one is saying anything about why it is so unbelievably slow right now? 4-5 months to get endorsed is commonplace. And the published list of designated employers is probably a real curse to many of them who would rather not be fielding email inquiries every morning to the effect of:

But everyone around here loves AIPP and thinks it’s the greatest thing since the Halifax Wanderers came to town. So far be it for me to whine about it. Ya, it’s awesome, love the 19 simple steps.

Now that the election dust has settled, it’s back to business as usual with the federal immigration programs. A couple of interesting new developments:

  • The new public policy to get around 117(9)(d) for certain individuals is in place until September 2021. This is an excellent idea to counter the brutality of that section of the Regs, where undisclosed (sometimes unknown) family members are subject to a sponsorship bar. We are just starting to prepare applications using this pilot, so are not sure how it will impact ordinary processing times.
  • The new caregiver pilot looks interesting too. This is a recruitment-exempt temporary-to-permanent residence program for in-home caregivers (of children or adults). The less-than-ambitious goal of issuing the work permit within 12 months is a bit concerning, since work permits can be processed within days under other streams.

Over here at North Star, I have these observations:

  • Covered Bridge Salt and Vinegar chips are the official snack of North Star Immigration Law (no, we are not getting paid to say that);
  • Immigration uncertainty can be stressful and difficult even for the most resilient people. To those clients who are struggling with these additional stressors in their lives, know that we are rooting for you;
  • A lot of people find love in Hubbards, NS.

*Hello, Charter, is that you knocking on the Return of Service Agreement door, with a sign saying “um, what about section 6 mobility rights”?  

Pop Up Law Office 1.0 – Law, what law? Also, don’t we need an office cat?

North Star Immigration Law rented a house in Guadeloupe from late April to early June 2019. Our lawyers took turns going for a week or 2.

It was a small, cute house with good wifi and a nice pool:

The house came with a spectacular cat, one we almost brought home until we realized her hunting passion and prowess would be stifled in our office, since we have no lizards/birds/snails/hermit crabs/bats/moths/you-name-it-she-kills-it:

There was an outdoor trapeze school down the road from the house ( École de Trapeze Volant!):

Guadeloupe, being an overseas French Department, is a really interesting mix of Caribbean/Creole culture and France. Bakeries everywhere. Duck confit, cheap wine and good cheese in the grocery stores. And this, Hibiscus juice, the most spectacular of drinks:

Guadeloupe has a slow-pace, where you have to watch for crab-traffic in parking lots:

And cows on the way to the beach:

Pop-up Law Office, Lessons Learned:

I think it is fair to say, with only a week or 2, and with the beach, sun, cows, crabs and cats to occupy you, it’s hard to get settled and to get any real work done.

I assume everyone does this when their colleagues are on vacation – you try to give them time and space but always end up sheepishly emailing them once or twice, knowing you shouldn’t bother them, but only they have the answer/insight into a question, so maybe if they have a second, no rush, no pressure, they can give you some guidance? The fact that we could email each other while they were in Guadeloupe without feeling totally guilty since it was a “working holiday”, was great. And when it was your turn to be there, there was no expectation to get any massive file work done (except Cam and his PF submission that I’m hoping he at least wrote while sitting on the pool ledge). But an hour or two in the morning of replying to emails and the odd CSE, or giving feedback on something, was all that was needed.

So what did we do?

Sophie went jet skiing (photo pre-jet-ski):

Cam hung out in the rainforest:

Guilhem climbed the volcano:

Lori went to the beach:

And I stayed pretty close to home, this was the walk to the beach behind our house:

Wandering around the capital, Pointe a Pitre is very interesting:

See the artist’s Insta page here and FB page here.

Most of us made it to the ACTe, the International Memorial dedicated to the memory and history of the Slavery Trade. It is such an important place, I wish it was better known, because spending time there is a profound and life-changing experience.

Of everything, the highlight for me on this trip was a song. We were last in Guadeloupe with our kids (ages 5 and 9 at the time) 3 years ago, and we also spent a day at the ACTe. We paired up: my partner took our 9-year-old, and I went with our 5-year-old, Louisa. For the main exhibit, the audio tour is mandatory, even for kids. I remember Louisa and I finished the exhibit first, and as we stepped out into the final corridor, which is a tribute to heroes who have fought against slavery and oppression, the loveliest song started to play. As we stood at the end of the tour waiting, we watched strangers step out into that corridor as the same song started to play in their audio tour. Without exception, everyone started to tap, snap, shake or shimmy to the rhythm of that song. Whether consciously or not, that song makes you dance your way out the door of one of the saddest and most sobering places on earth.

I never found out what the song was, thinking I could find it online.
But of course, I never did.

This time, it was my first question after buying the entrance ticket.

The answer: Miriam Makeba, Pata Pata

 

Pop-up Law Shop? Why not!


Lawyers have mandatory continuing professional development but it can start to feel, at least in our office where there is almost constant collaboration, like everything we do is one big professional development session.

Conference? Check.

Lunch and learn? Check.

Networking event? Check.

Consultations with government? Check.

Group yoga? Um, no (but we really wish we were that kind of team).

Pop-up law office on a tropical island? Check.

In January, I sent this email to the lawyers at North Star:

I have been thinking about the idea of a pop up law office for a few years. After all, we are immigration lawyers, so awareness of life in other places gives us perspective and appreciation. Plus, we operate at such a high level in terms of productivity, commitment and output, it’s hard to get away. And when you go away, it’s hard to disconnect.

So, what if North Star created a mini-office in a nice place where lawyers could each spend a week, still connected (somewhat, think 2-3 hours of work a day), bring a friend, and have a common experience? We would not be going together, but we would have a house and rental car for 6 weeks and take turns going.

North Star would pay for the house, car, and round trip airfare. We would ensure the house gets cleaned and linens changed between lawyers, and if the house owner can do anything extra, like bringing fresh bread and coffee in the morning, we could sign on for that too. This would not count as vacation time, but it could be added to a vacation if you would want to be in that area for longer.

There is no shame in not wanting to do this, everyone has their own stuff going on, but all I am asking is to think about it and let me know by Monday if you are in or out. And if you’re in, give me some weeks that would work.

If it works, great, and we would look at doing it again, perhaps for a longer period of time in a year or 2. And I know lawyers are hard to wrangle and get all on the same page, so if it doesn’t work, that’s ok too.

This could be a total crack-pot idea or could be awesome. More likely, it will be fun, interesting and completely imperfect.

Turns out most of us were in.  So North Star Immigration Law, 2019 Guadeloupe Edition is currently underway. Stay tuned for updates.

 

 

Psst…this is how you can use the NS AIP Designated Employers list

Every morning, we wake up to many email inquiries sent from random people, around the world, trying their luck at email-blasting to find a job in Canada. Here are just the re lines from today’s emails:

“Re: Looking for employment : Atlantic immigration pilot program”
“Interested to get job offer for AIPP”
“A Job Offer For Immigration”
“Looking for a job in this beautiful city”
“Want to do job in abroad”

There is nothing special about us to attract these emails and I have no doubt that other immigration lawyers get 10x the number of these inquiries that we do.

We also get a smattering of these types of [despicable!] emails:

“We are one of immigration company in XXXX, China, and these 2 years, we have many customers who want to buy job for NS by AIP or NSDEE program. Could you provide the employer sources to us, and give us a good cooperation price?”

Needless to say, those go directly into the trash can.

And here’s the saddest inquiry of all:

“I am looking for a low level jobs which does not ask for previous working experience because my motive is just to work in Canada and if I survive long then I can apply for PR after 5-years. (I must mention that I have 2 pending legal cases going on here in XXX which are money related legal cases.)”

We rarely, if ever, respond to any of these inquiries. However if I did, this is what I would say:

Thanks for the email. We do not offer a recruitment service to individuals but you can now look at the list of designated employers and if you find one that may be suitable, you can send your CV to them. If they are interested, they will contact you. 

This is the list of designated employers:

https://novascotiaimmigration.com/wp-content/uploads/Designated_AIP_employers.pdf

And this is how you would search to find the contact for the employers on this list:

https://rjsc.gov.ns.ca/rjsc/search/inquiry.do;jsessionid=ymYH4DqhCfiqVpEiOnG16UIzaF-cAtj416_fN1BRDRsfg0dyPiyk!-4748453

Please note that you should not use immigration to Nova Scotia as a way to move to other parts of Canada. In order to apply for this program you must be able to show “settlement intent” to remain in Nova Scotia.

Once you find a job offer, you can hire us for the immigration process.

Over ‘n out.

Welcome Sophie Chiasson!

Halifax, Nova Scotia – October 22, 2018 – North Star Immigration Law Inc. is pleased to welcome Sophie Chiasson to the firm as an associate. Ms. Chiasson articled under two Justices of the Federal Court of Canada. She has lived and worked in Egypt, England, New Zealand and Uganda.

North Star continues to assist individuals and businesses in all types of Canadian immigration matters as immigration targets rise and immigration programs become increasingly complex.

Ms. Chiasson is from Ontario, she was called to the Ontario Bar in June 2018 and to the Nova Scotia Bar in October 2018. Ms. Chiasson’s background includes a Fellowship with the International Refugee Rights Initiative in Kampala, Uganda, during her time at Osgoode Hall Law School (JD, 2017). Ms. Chiasson also holds an MSc (Distinction) from the London School of Economics (2012) and BA (Hons) from the University of King’s College (2010).

“We are very pleased to attract an associate with Sophie’s exemplary credentials,” said Elizabeth Wozniak, founder of North Star Immigration Law. “In addition to her academic record, her work experience, volunteer and otherwise, and especially clerking for two Justices of the Federal Court of Canada, is extremely impressive.”

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About North Star Immigration Law

North Star Immigration Law is headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with clients throughout Canada and around the world. Our mission is to help individuals start their lives in Canada and to help businesses build their Canadian teams by harnessing global talent. We help our clients with a variety of Canadian immigration matters from temporary and permanent residence, to businesses and entrepreneurs, to those seeking Canadian citizenship. Our six immigration lawyers work collaboratively in an open setting. We only charge flat rates, which have been published on our website since 2010.

2018: Feeling Good

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There is a lot to love about Canadian immigration these days. Our immigration minister is the right person for the job: a refugee, a lawyer and former immigration lawyer. There is a general perception that our programs are fair yet firm (just stay off the Canada subreddit). Express Entry is ticking along nicely. You can get through to a human at IRCC and sometimes a human will respond, even use an exclamation mark here and there (massive shout-out to “Lucy” at IRCC). Whoever is running the @IRCC Twitter account has a sense of humor, previously unseen (is that you, Lucy?). Here in Nova Scotia, we have new programs and a provincial immigration office that is fast, responsive and competent. We’ve also almost finished a balmy winter worthy of Weather Smugness at least when we talk to people in Alberta and Ontario. Everything is relative here in Canada.

On the surface, it’s sunshine and roses. But of course it’s not really. There are serious, prevailing, systemic problems. And I’m not only talking about the increasing inland refugee backlog, which is due to a lack of resources and decision-makers. There are other problems, all I think at least partly related to a collective myopic-optimism that has lulled us into thinking that everything is going just fine, thank you very much.

Parent/Grandparent sponsorship: in 2017, IRCC changed this process to a lottery. But the details were never sorted out, so ineligible people could throw their names into the lottery, and throw off everyone else’s chances of getting selected. A year later, IRCC promised to tighten up the process. But when the program reopened in January 2018, it became apparent that almost nothing had changed – one optional question was added to remind people they should be eligible. Sad, sad trombones.

Caregiver program closes: On February 5, 2018, IRCC announced that the 2014 caregiver “pathway to permanent residence” pilot expires in November 2019. Over the years, it has become harder for caregivers in Canada on work permits to qualify for PR and now there is no assurance that after November 2019 there will be an option to get PR. My humble suggestion is that the NOC for caregivers get listed under the Federal Skilled Trades class to facilitate permanent residence through Express Entry, and recognize that (a) caregiving is a skilled occupation; and (b) people who take care of children and the elderly in Canada should be valued the same as anyone else, and deserve a means to obtain permanent residence, the same as butchers and bakers and candlestick makers.

No more self-employed farmers: For as long as I have been practicing law (15 years), Canada has had a self-employed permanent residence program for artists, athletes and farmers. It’s not a particularly well-used program, but is helpful especially since many immigration programs don’t easily recognize self-employment as qualifying work experience (I’m looking at you, CEC and Atlantic Immigration Pilot). As of March 10, 2018, no more farmers can go through that program. Wait, what? Wait, why?

The new and improved family class: It’s amazing to me that in December 2016 when IRCC streamlined the family class, it increased the document checklist from 3 pages to 10 pages and required that applications be submitted on paper and then later linked online, which has proven to be a vexing problem. We joke about it around the office, but for people who are doing the applications themselves, it’s incredibly confusing. Love prevails, but it can be messy.

Refugee Resettlement is too slow and numbers are too low: We were on such a roll in 2015 but since then, the numbers have dwindled. Processing times are increasing, and spots for government assisted refugees are static. IRCC recently announced 1000 more female refugees would be resettled, which is great, but a lot more should be done to bump up the quotas, streamline the process and get rid of the backlog. The 2015 situation was not a blip, it’s the new normal. Canada needs to have ongoing infrastructure and contingency plans.

Today, someone asked if I thought they would be welcome in Canada. They qualify for permanent residence and are exactly the kind of newcomer Canada is trying to attract. But they were feeling insecure about immigrating, and that everything they had read seemed so impossibly positive, there must be a catch.   I told them I thought they would be welcome here, but starting a new life anywhere is tough, even when you plan properly and things go smoothly.

It is the first time I have ever been asked that question.

So, yes, despite everything, feeling pretty good.

 

The Parent (Sponsorship) Trap

Yesterday, December 30, 2017, IRCC published the Ministerial Instructions for the 2018 Parent Sponsorship Program, set to open on January 2, 2018.[1]

Cynical people may call it a last minute effort to feign preparation and forethought before the opening of an immigration program that will impact ~100,000 Canadians and their ~100,000 overseas parents, but in IRCC-land, it’s a generous display of transparency and clarity. With 2 days to spare!

This is the way immigration works nowadays: programs open and close on a dime, forms change without notice and announcements that will impact hundreds of thousands of futures in Canada are made during a 3-day holiday, with the program opening on day 4.[2]

How the average person is supposed to stay on top of these rules and make sense of the constant flux is anyone’s guess.

The 2017 lottery was a decent enough idea set loose on a spectacularly poor system: anyone could throw their name in, but when it came time to applying, it turned out that few of the lottery winners were even eligible to sponsor their parents. Approximately 100,000 people put their names into the lottery, with only 10,000 available spots. When the first 10,000 were drawn in May, something in the realm of 4,000 actually applied (and of those, many were ineligible). By September, another draw had to be made to make up for the shortfall. We don’t know how many of September’s lottery winners were eligible, but they were drawn from the same pool of (mostly ineligible) 100,000 wannabe sponsors. And as usual, the big questions and critical information is either obfuscated or avoided altogether.

Take for example, this gem of an announcement IRCC made in September after the second draw of the PGP 2017. Spun as great news! there was no information about the actual details, such as:

  • How many people who won the first draw actually submitted applications?
  • Of those submitted, how many were eligible?
  • How many people were selected in the second draw?
  • What changes will be made to the 2018 program to avoid this kind of system failure?

On December 22, 2017, IRCC announced the 2018 program would open again on January 2, again in lottery form, including this note:

To help ensure the efficiency of the system and to allow as many eligible sponsors as possible to bring their parents and grandparents to Canada, it is important that only those who meet the sponsorship eligibility requirements submit an “Interest to Sponsor” form. Additional questions have been added to the 2018 version of the “Interest to Sponsor” form to help potential sponsors self-assess whether they are eligible to sponsor.

I am curious to see the new version of the Interest to Sponsor form, and in particular what self-assessment of sponsorship eligibility looks like, since last years’ version also had what (IRCC believes, anyway) were clear guidance on eligibility and a self-assessment tool. Similar to how my 7-year-old assessed herself eligible to watch UFC 219 (Cyborg v. Holm) last night. Maybe next year, darlin’.

Let’s hope that’s not the theme song for the 2018 Parent Sponsorship Program.

 

[1] For those unfamiliar with this stream, this is one category of the “family reunification” immigration programs and represents approximately 5% of Canada’s annual immigration numbers, and allows Canadians to sponsor their parents’ or grandparents’ applications for permanent residency. In the past, the program was open to anyone who qualified (the usual sponsor income, medical admissibility, security clearances, etc. always apply) without any caps or quotas.  But a massive backlog built up, so in 2011, IRCC put the program on hold to clear some of the backlog. Since 2014, on the first business day of January of each year, IRCC has opened up the program and there is a cap on the number of applications that will be processed each year. In 2017, IRCC introduced the first “lottery” system, where, rather than everyone’s applications arriving at the IRCC processing centre on January 2 of each year, the lottery opens up on January 2 so anyone who wants to sponsor their parents can throw their name in, and a month later, the lottery closes, and the draw of 10,000 is made thereafter.

 

[2] But hey, who needs an immigration lawyer, right?!

 

EDITED: Coffee? Check. New Citizenship Forms? Check.

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[EDITED VERSION IN THE HARSH REALITY OF OCT 12]

Oct 11, 2017. Today is the day the new citizenship law comes into force. Sometime in the dead of last night, the IRCC elves uploaded the new forms and checklists to the website. [EDIT: It turned out that the IRCC elves were half asleep (or just messing with us) when they uploaded the forms online in the wee hours of Oct 11. So once typed, the forms could not be printed. This wasn’t corrected until about 3pm Atlantic time.]

Under the new rules, you must live in Canada for 3 out of 5 years as a permanent resident to qualify for Canadian citizenship. If you have also lived in Canada temporarily during those 5 years, each temporary day counts for half of a full day, up to a maximum of 1 year. So for example, if you were here as a student for 2 years, then became a PR, you can apply for citizenship after just 2 years living here as a PR within that 5-year window.

If you are between 18-54, you have to show proof of English or French language ability, you have to provide proof of filing CRA income tax returns and police clearances for any country you have lived in outside of Canada during the 5-year window. There is now an option on the forms to change sex designation.

The biggest surprise to me is the application fee is still $630 for adults and $530 for minors*. It used to be $200. I was hoping that with the new rules, there would be a renewed benevolence on the fee issue, to ensure citizenship is not cost-prohibitive. Sadly, that didn’t happen. [EDIT: it’s actually $100 for minors applying with an adult. The $530 is for minors who are applying for citizenship alone.]

We have a pile of applications waiting to be assembled and a courier heading to Cape Breton this afternoon to deliver them to the IRCC Case Processing Centre in Sydney. [EDIT: IRCC’s external (and apparently also internal) computer system crashed badly yesterday. Nevertheless, we still made the courier deadline and sent our first package of applications to Sydney at 4:30. I had a quick word with the applications before they left the building. Godspeed guys, and good luck in Sydney.]

First giant coffee of the day is finished.

Here’s to being good-busy.

[EDIT: But next time, let’s try not to have a heart attack.]

North Star Immigration Law is moving!

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After 10 years in the wonderful St. Paul’s Building, we are moving our office to 5475 Spring Garden Road on Friday, August 4, 2017. Our new location is spacious and bright and reflects who we are as a law firm.

Stay tuned for pictures of the new space, including all the reclaimed and historic elements we have incorporated, and our new awesome painting by Kent Senecal.

Moving to a new office: yay!

(Packing right now: boo!)

Spring 2017 – Immigration Round-Up

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So much has been going on here at North Star Immigration Law that my head is spinning. We are expanding to a bigger space in a few months, have hired a new articling clerk and are in the process of a website revamp. To all the people whose calls I haven’t returned in the past few weeks – my apologies, I am getting to you!  But all of this pales in comparison to the changes afoot in immigration law and policy.

The new permanent residence process for spouses of Canadians is in full swing, and the reason I know this is that the lawyers in our office who deal with these applications are often seen pounding their heads on their desks trying to “link up” the application to the online system, as required. What was supposed to make things simpler has turned out to be a massive pain with more steps, more minefields and more opportunities for mistakes. But who ever said love was easy?

Speaking of love, I am feeling very sad for the 85,000 disappointed candidates who did not get selected in the parent sponsorship lottery. The lottery was hastily put together in mid-December. It was ill-thought out and it is going to create headaches for IRCC for months – if not years – to come. None of our clients (who qualified to sponsor their parent(s)) were selected. Worse, most the people who were selected and have consulted us for help with the forms do not actually qualify, so won’t make it through the program. So it will be interesting to find out how many of the total 10,000 drawn are actually qualified to sponsor? Psst…IRCC – how about next year making the questions more specific to ensure no one puts their name in the hat without actually meeting the requirements? Just a thought.

In other news, the age of dependents will go up to 22 on October 24, 2017, with some transitional provisions. This is great news for a lot of people.

The citizenship rules will also change in terms of requirements to qualify for a grant of citizenship and, as of the Federal Court’s decision yesterday, revocation proceedings. To put it politely, citizenship rules are still in flux, and will be for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, as the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration for the Study on Immigration Consultants is underway, the new Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program (AIPP) has completely cut representatives out of this new program, which is being hailed as the be all and end all solution of Atlantic Canada’s immigration problem. Which is weird because there’s a rule that representatives must be authorized and disclosed (i.e. see s. 91 or IRPA or  “Concealed Representatives”). Under the AIPP, if clients or employers want to hire us to assist them, we are relegated to ghosting on the files only  – the NS Office of Immigration only communicates with the employers and applicants – there is no where we can even disclose ourselves as legal reps.

So that’s the round-up.

Yeehaw?