People living in the US, or any other country, without legal resident status can become legal permanent residents of Canada. If you’re tired of waiting for the DREAM Act to provide you with a greencard or found yourself not qualifying, consider moving to Canada. Your undocumented status in another country will not interfere with your ability to apply for permanent residence in Canada, but it will make things a little more complicated. You’ll want to carefully check the information on the IRCC website and consider hiring an immigration attorney to help you. Don’t make major life decisions without carefully checking the information you’re given, as mistakes can have big consequences. If you’ve significantly overstayed your visa in the US (or any country) or entered a country without passing through an official port of entry, you won’t qualify for any sort of temporary visa from Canada. An illegal stay shows that you don’t wish to return to your home country, so you won’t be given a visitor visa, student visa, working holiday visa, or temporary foreign worker visa. You can, however, still apply for permanent resident status. If you’re able to obtain permanent resident status, you’re free to work, attend school, and generally live your life as you see fit anywhere in Canada. Most people can apply for a visa, PR status, and citizenship in Canada without the need for an immigration attorney. However, if you have any sort of criminal record or if you have been living as an undocumented immigrant for several years, you will likely benefit from working with an experienced immigration attorney. Many immigration attorneys will consider the details of your case and let you know if moving to Canada is a realistic option in an initial consultation.

Move to Canada as a skilled worker

Assuming that you qualify for express entry, it’s possible to apply without legal status in your current country. The IRCC is unlikely to request any confirmation of your current status as part of your application. This is a great option for those of you who have a degree or skilled trade, at least one year of work experience, and are fluent in English or French. The process will take about six months. If you’re facing deportation proceedings, we’ve heard of people successfully getting their deportation hearing delayed by providing proof that they had applied for permanent resident status in Canada. A judge may give you time for your application to be processed. Some applicants are required to attend an in-person interview at a visa application centre (VAC) as part of the application process. These interviews take place in whichever country you indicate that you currently reside in. You may run into some complications when putting your application together.

Police certificates

The IRCC will require police certificates for all countries that you have lived in for six or more months since turning 18. This may be difficult in places that are particularly unfriendly to people without legal status. If you indicate on your application that you have been living in the US, then you’ll have to provide a FBI report. To get your fingerprints, you’ll need to show a current, valid photo ID. When I applied for PR, I got my fingerprints done through the NYPD, but it’s also possible to do this without going through local law enforcement. Some legal offices do fingerprints. I found reports of people that have gotten fingerprints in the US who were undocumented and didn’t have any issues. 

Job verification

Your application will have to include information about each job that you have had for the last ten years or since you turned 18. You’ll also have to provide letters of employment from each employer. This may prove difficult if you were working under the table. However, you do not need to provide pay stubs or tax returns, only a letter from your employer. At the very least, as the primary applicant, you’ll need letters to verify the qualifying NOC work experience you have that counts towards the program.

Spousal sponsorship

The CIC frowns upon fake marriages, so they’re not going to be thrilled if you met your beloved on Maple Match. However, the US and UK are full of dual citizens (and people with permanent resident status). If you marry one (or live with one for a year and are in a serious relationship) they can sponsor you for permanent resident status as long as they demonstrate that they intend to move back to Canada once your application is approved.

Claim refugee status

It’s unlikely that people who are undocumented in the US would qualify for asylum based on their experience in the US. However, some people fled their country of origin for reasons that would qualify them for asylum in Canada. This is a complicated situation, since technically people are required to apply for asylum in the country they first enter due to the Safe Third Country Agreement. There are limited exceptions, but it’s likely that your refugee claim will not be heard if you enter the country from the US border unless you have a family member already living in Canada. Another complication is the amount of proof required in an asylum application. It’s an incredible challenge to provide documentation of some situations and to show that you still face danger if you return to your country of origin.

Leaving the country you’re currently in

If you own property or a business, you’ll want to sell it or make a plan for continued management once you leave the country.  While it’s unlikely that border patrol will arrest someone who is attempting to leave the country, it is technically possible. It is likely that they will ban you from re-entry. Some countries will fine people who’ve overstayed a visa. Enforcement tends to vary from one port of entry to another, so it’s worth researching to see where you have the best odds and planning your travel accordingly.

One thing to keep in mind is that leaving the US after remaining in the country for a year without legal status will trigger a three or ten year ban on re-entry. You can apply for a waiver from this ban, but you must do so before you leave the US. You will likely qualify for a waiver if you were under 18 when you were brought to the US, have a pending adjustment of status case, or were a victim of abuse or human trafficking. After the ban expires, you’ll be able to return to the US like a regular tourist or apply for resident status like anyone else.