Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Becoming a Canuck

This morning we got up at an ungodly hour to meet with an immigration lawyer and go over the monumental stack of paperwork that we have to complete in order for me to apply for Permanent Resident status. The paperwork should take about eight months for Canada to process and, after I get this status, I will be able to do everything except vote here. After about two years, I can apply for citizenship, at which time I will become a dual citizen.

It's not an easy process to become a citizen, nor is it a cheap one. Nevertheless, I probably should have started earlier. I've been in Canada for four years, although technically I've just been "frequently visiting". Because I have no felonies on my record and I don't work in Canada, I'm in good standing with both countries. However, it would be nice to be able to work here, get health care here, or just have a record of some sort. As of right now, I can't even get a video membership in Canada.

What has prevented me from applying was a mistaken belief that I had to give up my US citizenship and address, and hence my scholarship. However, it seems that the US is fine with my living in Canada, provided I pay taxes in the US. And Canada is fine with me living here, provided that I don't work in Canada until I have permanent resident status. Oh, and when I got stitches here a few years ago, I had to pay out-of-pocket, while it would have been free for a Canadian.

It looks very dramatic on television when they show illegal aliens sneaking across the Rio Grande into the US at midnight. I'm guessing, however, that most illegal aliens come into countries legally to visit and then decide to stay. Whenever Claire visits the US, the border guards tell her that she'd better return within six months, or they'll come find her. Fat chance. I'd also imagine that the difference between "legal" and "illegal" is a lot more confusing than it seems to people not going through the process. If I help my brother-in-law paint his apartment, I'm okay- unless he pays me, in which case I'm probably still legal, but might be working illegally. I wouldn't be surprised if there are "illegals" who have no idea that they're illegal.

Incidentally, I've gotten very different responses to my own situation on opposite sides of the border. Some of the US border guards I encounter are convinced that I'm somehow "working the system" or taking advantage of a Canadian, in spite of the fact that my situation is actually a pain in the ass. The Canadian Border guards, in contrast, bend over backwards to welcome me. In fact, it was a border guard who convinced me to get started on the process towards citizenship. Canada has a great deal of immigration: one-in-five Canadians are new Canadians. Of course, the different attitude on the Canadian side isn't due to some innate difference in national character; Canada is simply in a boom time, particularly in terms of natural resources, and they need more workers as soon as possible.

I'm happy to come work here. More than happy, in fact. On one hand, becoming a Canadian is very emotional. I've started talking about "us" and "our country" when discussing Canada with my family. I've really started losing interest in US politics. I'm even beginning to get the humor of the Rick Mercer Report, which I found bewildering when I first came here. Uh... maybe that should be "humour".

On the other hand, it's just a place to rest your head, isn't it? I'd like to say that, in my heart, I'm an American, or in my soul, I'm becoming a Canadian, or that in a few years, I might follow my true calling of living in France. To be honest though, one plot of dirt's about the same as any other. We humans romanticize these things when they really amount to what we're most used to. Admittedly, Canada and the US do most things about the same. But, a border's a relative thing, isn't it?


Holly said...

Thanks for posting this, it helps remind me that for all our struggles here, and for all our little triumphs, it is almost certain that we're missing good info, and that things probably aren't as bad as we think.

Personally, I'll know I've gone native when this is crystal clear to me. (As of right now, it's very funny, as long as I don't think I need to know ALL the words to know what's going on...)

Rufus said...

Of course for me it's a lot easier since I'm married to a Canadian and Canada is so similar to the US. I did have a lot of misconceptions though. It helps to talk to an official and ask them questions. Perhaps there's an 800 number. Are you two going to go native?

That is a very funny video incidentally. I had a plan for some time of shooting an "art film" that would consist of a long super-8 shot of a baby carriage on fire with a lively German voice-over and laugh track. I think it would sound something like that.

Hiromi said...

"It's not an easy process to become a citizen, nor is it a cheap one."

How is 'spensive?

When I leave Texas -- and I'm gonna, come hell or high water -- is the BBQ and the Tex-Mex.

Hiromi said...

I meant, "How is it 'spensive to become a citizen?"

clairev said...

I think it's pretty expensive in the US as well. Here in Canada, there are fees for filing and processing as well as getting the physical. Even without the immigration lawyer, it's over a thousand bucks. I'd imagine it can be hard if you just got here. And then your "sponsor" needs to have a certain amount in assets so the government knows you're not going to sponge off the system.

Another thing that's different in Canada is that they have a point system here to become a citizen. Since I'm married to a Canadian, have a degree or two and know French, I have more points than I would otherwise.

It's all very confusing, but I guess it's not terribly onerous, since they have a very high rate of immigration.

clairev said...

This is Rufus, using Claire's computer. For the record, I am not wearing her clothes.

clairev said...

okay this IS claire...

the government charges you just over a grand for this step of the process (landed Immigrant, not Citizen)

this doesn't include the time and money that you will spend accruing documents (such as an official marriage certificate, scanning photos and other "proof of relationship" docs, the exorbitant fee for rufus to get a full "immigration medical" etc.)

and then, since we're going through a lawyer, who does make this a whole lot easier, their fee of about $2700 for just this part of the process, and then probably anything else they can get out of you.

i suppose it's not a massive amount of money, but it could be prohibitive for some.


gregvw said...

On the subject of "going native," it turns out that there is a peculiar Austrian law which entitles university professors to (dual) citizenship should the wish it. Since I am already sidling furtively around a professorial position here this remains a solid possibility for the future.

Overall, I am not particularly interested in spending the rest of my life in the US. 32 years was enough for me.