Immigrating to British Columbia

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Darren Penner, Larlee Rosenberg, and Gregory Bruce, Barrister & Solicitor in March 2019.

For those thinking of settling permanently in British Columbia, there are several programs for immigrating to Canada. There is also financial and other help available for newcomers to the province.

What you should know

There are several categories or “classes” of immigration

There are dozens of government programs designed to make Canadian immigration successful, both for newcomers and for Canada. These programs fall into three broad categories, or “classes”:

  • Family class. Programs for families, where Canadian citizens and permanent residents may sponsor family members and loved ones for Canadian immigration.
  • Economic class. Programs for professionals and workers to apply to become a permanent resident of Canada.
  • Refugee class. Canada offers refugee protection to people who fear persecution and who are unwilling or unable to return to their home country.

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act controls immigration to Canada. A federal government department, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, facilitates the arrival of immigrants and refugees to Canada.

Immigrating under the “family class”

The goal of family class immigration is to reunite Canadians with their close relatives. A Canadian citizen or permanent resident can sponsor certain relatives to come to Canada. A person can sponsor:

  • their spouse or common-law partner
  • their parents or grandparents
  • their dependent children (biological or adopted)
  • an unmarried orphaned sibling, nephew, niece or grandchild under 18

The applicant must be able to financially support the person they are sponsoring for a period of between three to 20 years, depending on their relationship with that person.

Processing times

Spouses and dependent children get priority. Usually, these applications take three to 12 months to process. It can take two to six years to process applications of parents and grandparents, depending on the visa office processing the application. Dependent children must either be under 22 years old and unmarried, or unable to support themselves due to a mental or physical condition. The Canadian government website lets you check processing times and application status.

Work permits

Sponsored spouses and common-law partners applying from within Canada may receive a work permit so they can work before becoming permanent residents. But people without this status when they apply may have to wait much longer for a work permit.

Parents and grandparents

The parent and grandparent sponsorship program is by invitation only. A person can submit their interest in sponsoring a parent or grandparent to become a permanent resident of Canada, and they may be invited to submit a complete application.

Parents and grandparents can also apply for a long-term “super visa” to visit family in Canada for up to two years at a time. Normal visitor visas are for only six months.

Immigrating under the “economic class”

There are dozens of “economic class” programs for professionals and workers to apply to become a permanent resident of Canada.

Federal programs

The federal skilled workers program is for skilled workers with foreign work experience who want to immigrate to Canada permanently. If an applicant meets the minimum requirements for the program, their application will be assessed on a 100-point grid that considers six factors. In addition to work experience, the grid factors in age, education, language ability, whether the applicant has a valid job offer, and their adaptability (how well they’re likely to settle in Canada).

The federal skilled trades program is for skilled workers who want to become permanent residents based on being qualified in a skilled trade. Applicants must have at least two years of full-time work experience in a skilled trade, and meet minimum requirements for language ability. They must also have either a valid job offer or a certificate of qualification in their skilled trade.

The Canadian experience class is for skilled workers who have Canadian work experience and want to become permanent residents. It lets people with one year of full-time work in Canada in a skilled occupation immigrate to Canada. Applicants must meet minimum requirements for language ability.

The start-up visa program targets immigrant entrepreneurs with an innovative business idea. Applicants must show they have the skills and potential to build a business in Canada that is innovative and can create jobs. Successful applicants are granted a permanent residence visa and assistance to become established in Canada.

The self-employed persons program allows people to immigrate to Canada permanently as a self-employed person. Applicants must have relevant experience in cultural activities or athletics, and be willing and able to make a significant contribution to the cultural or athletic life of Canada.

BC’s provincial nominee program

British Columbia and most other provinces have provincial nominee programs that fall under the economic class of immigrating to Canada. These programs can speed up, or fast track, an immigration application so it takes less than one year. They can also have a work permit issued in two to three months.

One of the fastest ways to immigrate to BC is under BC’s provincial nominee program, which lets BC select immigrants based on their specific ability to contribute to the BC economy. For example, applicants for jobs in BC where there is a shortage of workers — such as high-tech positions and rural postings — can qualify here. An applicant must first have a job offer to apply under this program. The program has four steps: registration, invitation, application, and nomination.

Immigrating under the “refugee class”

Canada has a long tradition of helping people in need, accepting them as refugees. Refugees include people unable or unwilling to return to their home country based on a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, political opinion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group. Refugees also include people who might face risk to their lives, cruel and unusual treatment, punishment, or torture if they went home.

To come to Canada as a refugee, a person must be referred. The United Nations Refugee Agency or a private sponsorship group can refer a refugee. Refugee claimants must prove they meet the definition of a refugee to become a protected person in Canada. The Canadian government has designated some countries as “safe” and requires special procedures for refugee claimants from these countries.

Some people are “inadmissible” to Canada

Some people are not allowed to come to Canada. They’re “inadmissible” under Canada’s immigration law. There are different reasons a person may be refused entry to (or removed from) Canada. They include:

  • security reasons, such as subversion (attempts to overthrow a government) or violence or terrorism
  • human or international rights violations, including war crimes
  • committing a crime, including impaired driving
  • medical reasons, including medical conditions that endanger public health
  • financial reasons (if you’re unable or unwilling to support yourself and your family members)

Normally, if you’re inadmissible to Canada, you won’t be allowed to enter the country. If you have a valid reason to travel to Canada, you may be issued a temporary resident permit.

If you do not qualify under the usual immigration rules

Immigration officials can make exceptions to the usual immigration rules in some cases to prevent undeserved or exceptional hardship.

There is help available for new immigrants

Some financial and other help is available to immigrants through various programs and services. These include counseling and cultural orientation, loans to help with transportation to Canada, language training, and job-related services.

Canada has many immigrant-serving organizations to help newcomers settle in Canada. They are excellent sources of information and advice on living in Canada. They also have settlement workers who can provide help to meet settlement needs such as finding a job, finding housing, and improving language skills.

The Legal Services Society may provide a lawyer for free for those who meet the financial guidelines and are facing an immigration proceeding that may remove them from Canada, or they want to claim refugee status. Their website lists legal aid locations. You can also call them at 604-408-2172 in Greater Vancouver or toll-free 1-866-577-2525 elsewhere in BC.

If you’re asked to leave Canada

The refusal of a temporary residence application (such as a visitor record, a work permit, or a study permit), will most often come with instructions to leave Canada immediately. But some applicants will get a 90-day restoration period when they can re-submit an application without having to leave the country. If you stay in Canada without a restoration period, it can cause serious problems for any future application to enter.

In cases where the Canada Border Services Agency takes steps to remove someone from Canada, most people are eligible for a pre-removal risk assessment before they are removed from the country. If you have already made a refugee claim that was rejected, the decision on risk will be based only on new evidence.

The Federal Court of Canada can review most decisions of immigration officials and tribunals. But it does so only in very limited cases. You would need legal help in this area.

Who can help

With your situation

The immigration process is very involved and detailed. Getting legal assistance is highly recommended. Many British Columbia lawyers participate in the Lawyer Referral Service, which can connect you with a lawyer for a free 15-minute consultation. The lawyer can provide some initial advice on your options. Then, if you and the lawyer agree, you can hire that lawyer at their normal rate.

  • Call 604-687-3221 in Greater Vancouver
  • Call 1-800-663-1919 (toll-free)
  • Visit website

Legal Aid BC may provide a lawyer for free if you meet the financial guidelines and are facing an immigration proceeding that may remove you from Canada, or you want to claim refugee status. Their website also has free publications for immigrants and refugees.

  • Call 604-408-2172 in Greater Vancouver
  • Call 1-866-577-2525 (toll-free)
  • Visit website

More information

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is the federal government department that facilitates the arrival of immigrants and refugees to Canada. Their website explains federal immigration programs and includes online application forms.

WelcomeBC provides newcomers to British Columbia with information on immigrating to BC, getting settled, and finding employment.

The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada has details on refugee claims, admissibility hearings, and immigration appeals.

The Canadian Council for Refugees has general information on refugees.

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