Moving to Canada? Better get a lawyer

The Canadian-U.S. border is pictured in Stanstead, Canada. The old political punchline about moving to Canada if an election goes the wrong way is more than a joke to some -- and a lot harder to pull off than most people suspect.

It's an oft-told political joke: “If things don’t go my way, I’m moving to Canada.” You hear it every election, but do people actually mean it when they say it?

There's a chance Hannah Frame might be one of those people. She'll be watching the upcoming election very closely from her dorm at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, as the outcome could have major ramifications for the rest of her life.

"I don’t want to live in a country whose fundamental policies I disagree with, and I at least bear some responsibility for living in and perpetuating a system that eventually could hurt me and my neighbors," Frame said.

Frame says she's worried about what might happen if Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is elected. It could mean the end of the Affordable Care Act, she said, and it could mean going backwards on progress made on immigration, and these are issues she feels strongly about.

She’s not threatening to head north on Nov. 7th. She'd like to finish out college here, and she's got three and a half years to go. But from the sounds of things, she’s pretty set on living in a place that thinks and acts like she does.

"Especially being in Michigan, Canada is right across the border," she said. "It's not super far from home for me."

But Michael Niren, managing partner of Niren and Associates Immigration Lawyers in Toronto, said it's not that easy.

"You can't just up and decide, you know what, I'm gonna move up north and pack my bags," Niren said.

According to Niren, a lot of people are surprised when they hear they have to go through a great expense and a jump a lot of bureaucratic hurdles to become a permanent Canadian citizen. First, Niren says government fees for Canadian residency applications start as high as $1,500, getting more expensive depending on if your spouse or children move with you. And that's not including what it will cost to enlist help from a lawyer like Niren. The total cost depends on the case, he said, but it can be at least a few thousand dollars.

And then it starts to get complicated.

If you have a family member waiting for you, that’s one application system. If you have an actual job offer, that’s a different category. If you’re a single, working American who just wants out, Niren says they’ll ask you lots of questions.

Not a lot of job experience? Your application gets marked down. Over 40 years old or have a bad medical history? Your application gets marked down. Criminal background? Your application gets marked way down. And when it's all said and done, it might just be the case that Canada doesn’t want you.

"The government wants to ensure that people who come to Canada contribute to the economy, who will make an impact – a positive impact in Canada economically or culturally," said Niren.

No matter how difficult the process, somewhere between 7,000 to 10,000 Americans have become permanent residents of Canada since 2007, according to government numbers.

But it's opportunity, rather than politics that's luring them there, according to Demetri Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

"It is, you know, the opportunity to actually grow in your job, opportunities for your family and children, a system that seems to work, social protections that make sense," he said. "All of those things enter into the mix."

Papademetriou says for some Americans, the state of the U.S. economy makes the grass in Canada really seem much greener.

"The fact that Canada was not hurt almost at all, or at least not in a significant way by the crisis in 2008, you put all those things together and you find most of the explanation," he said.

But for many Americans who make the move up north, Papademetriou says it won't really be a permanent thing; once they advance their careers, they often return to the U.S.

So what does this mean for people like Hannah Frame?

"Obviously moving is a huge hassle but I’m going to be setting up a new home and I want to set up a home somewhere I feel comfortable," Frame said. "And for me, I think it would be worth it to set up in Canada."

But she says if it doesn’t work out, California could be an option. It’s still pretty progressive, and she’s heard the weather’s better there, too.

Log in to post15 Comments


While the story was entertaining and accurate regarding the difficulties of immigrating to Canada (though one does definitely not need a lawyer), it left the impression that folks who say, "I'm moving to Canada" are all talk. Not so. There are actually quite a few of us who moved to Canada after the 2000 and 2004 elections - and would gladly do so again. In fact, my profession has since been removed from the Skilled Worker list of eligible occupations. That thought, alone, gives me the willies. I thank my lucky stars that, while by no means perfect, at least Canada affords me and my family the opportunity to live in a place where we have equality under the law.

I'm a bit of a Canadophile; I love Canada. While conducting postgraduate research in Canada, I even considered applying for Landed Immigrant status, but PK is absolutely right.

Life in Canada isn't what Americans think it is... and it isn't the bastion of progressive politics most Americans wrongly assume, either. That's been particularly true with the advent of some crazy right-wing political parties in the post-war era.

Indeed, I call the current PM Stephen Harper the Canadian George Bush and, just as Bush declared he had "political capital" and was going to spend it, Harper's current majority in Parliament and sneaky legislative tricks, dedication to more "law and order" prisons, budgetary restraint while expanding military spending is a freaky carbon copy of Bush.

Obama put the brakes on the Keystone XL Pipeline across the Ogalala Plains but, undaunted, Harper concocted something even worse: the Northern Gateway pipeline that wouldn't just cross one critical ecological zone but seven.

But wait, there's more: Alberta just had elections last spring and the two primay candidates were like showdown between a Canadian Maggie Thatcher (Alison Redford) and Sarah Palin (Danielle Smith); a contest between one far-right party (the oddly-named Progressive Conservatives) and an even-further-right party (Wildrose Party).

I could go on and on (and, in several blogs on the subject, I do) but ... if you think Canada is a nearby Nirvana with just a little more snow, think again.

For as much as I love Canada, I also know it has plenty of warts.

Not the least of those warts is the national pasttime, American bashing. Be prepared to develop a strong stomach for hearing no end of complaints about America, Americans, etc. I found it very hard when I first came 30 years ago. However, now, the strongest Anti-Americanism (re: the government) comes from US citizens who immigrated and have been betrayed by the US govt in ways that are still hard to believe. Completely unaware of the requirement to file tax returns and report "foreign" accounts, Americans abroad have been hit with outrageous penalties and mistakenly portrayed to the Homelanders as "tax cheats." I am not a tax cheat. I also married a Canadian, who is the earner in our family, as I was a stay-at-home Mom. Joint accounts also have to be reported, even if the non-US citizen contributes all the money. Imagine the delight of not even being American and having to report your personal financial information. The fines do not diminish after one is compliant, at every turn lies the threat "$10k" even for innocent mistakes. Again, we are NOT talking about taxes, these fines apply for any failure to report any/all financial accounts if the aggregate at any time during the year is $10k. All of these policies were designed for American homelanders who have foreign accounts. There is no way I could ask my family to risk financial ruin because I was an American. The so-called amnesty programs (Overseas Voluntary Initiative Program of 2009 and the Overseas Voluntary Initiate Programs of 2011) are protection against criminal prosecution only. By going into one of these programs, one is admitting guilt and a guaranteed fine of 27.5% of the highest balance. All for not filing a piece of paper which no one had ever heard of. Many of those who did feel they should come forward in 2009 have lost their entire retirement savings. After the IRS indicated no one would pay more than they would normally incur, the famous bait-and-switch of FAQ 35 resulted in just that, AFTER people had come forward. Would you blame Americans abroad for renouncing, under these circumstances? I am no longer an American citizen-this was the hardest and saddest decision I have ever had to make. This is what you can look forward to, no matter where you move in the world. The same applies to green card holders and those who have US citizenship by an accident of birth, even if they never lived in the US, never had a social security number, never voted and never got a passport. I should think California sounds pretty good by now, eh?
As for Stephen Harper, he is busy allowing the FBI etc, full access to cross the Canadian border to make arrests. Supposedly for fugitives from the US but one begins to wonder.

Move to France, Hannah. The political and social system is progressive, the way of life in unparalleled, the gastronomy and scenery speak for themselves; and you're far enough away so you are better insulated from the idiocy of destructive American politics.

My family (myself, husband & 3 kids) moved to Canada for 'economic reasons' more than 20 yrs ago. When I hear stories like these about people thinking about leaving the US for political reasons, I just shake my head & LOL. Canada is a different country, with a different society, different culture, different history, different political & economic system, different, different, different. It is not the US North.

We moved, and at this point, we're all staying; we've taken on Canadian citizenship, but my husband & I will always be the immigrant parents from the Old Country. It is a much bigger move, psychologically & socially, than one would imagine.

My advice to Hannah: move to California.


With Generous Support From...