Expired Maple Leaf Card can turn immigrants into exiles

posted on May 25, 2015

By Nicholas Keung, Hamilton Spectator | Link to Article

By Nicholas Keung, Hamilton Spectator | Link to Article

Each year, thousands of permanent residents discover they can’t return to Canada after time away and face losing their permanent status because of an invalid “Maple Leaf Card,” the Ottawa-issued newcomer ID.

Government figures show that in 2013 alone, 19,503 permanent residents had to apply for a one-time travel document to return to Canada after being away. But only 13,211, or 70 per cent (down from 76 per cent the year before) were approved. Some 5,550 were refused and the rest were withdrawn.

The federal government introduced the Maple Leaf Card in 2002 to replace the old landing document as a means of enforcing residency requirements for immigrants. Permanent residents must carry the ID when they travel if they want to be readmitted to Canada.

The wallet-sized plastic card expires every five years, and cardholders must live in Canada for at least two years within a five-year period to qualify for renewal. Not getting a renewed card well ahead of travelling abroad can leave immigrants out in the cold.

“The expiry date on a PR card does not mean that a person’s status as a permanent resident expires,” said immigration department spokesperson Sonia Lesage. “It is up to the applicant to prove to Citizenship and Immigration Canada that they have and plan to continue to live in Canada.”

The largest single group requesting one-time documents were immigrants who wanted to return from China (about 4,300), followed by India (1,800), the Philippines (1,545), France (880), the United Kingdom (850) and Abu Dhabi (740).

While refused applicants can appeal the decision to an Immigration and Refugee Board tribunal, so as to re-enter Canada and renew their residency here, less than one fifth are successful.

In 2013, for example, the IRB tribunal received 964 appeals but granted only 166 of them — or 17.2 per cent, down from a peak of 33.1 per cent in 2010.

“Between the number of permanent residents who are refused the one-time travel documents, the low appeal approval rate and those who don’t even appeal, my estimate is each year 5,000 to 6,000 immigrants lose their status,” said immigration lawyer Lawrence Wong, who obtained the data.

Ranjan Desai, a Brampton resident who was sponsored to Canada by her son in 2009, applied to renew her PR card last April, a month before its expiry date. However, she had to leave for India in a rush to visit her ailing mother, before the card arrived.

Although officials had her PR card ready in October, they would not allow her family to pick it up on her behalf.

“They said she needed to go in person and must claim it within 180 days,” said her son, Anup Desai, a financial project manager.

“We applied to the Bangalore visa post for a one-time travel document for my mom to get back to Canada, but it was refused. She already has her new PR card waiting, but the visa officers wrongly said she didn’t meet her residency requirement.”

Fortunately, after studying the pertinent law, Desai learned that immigration officials must issue an applicant the one-time travel document if the person had lived in Canada within the past 12 months.

The law does exempt certain immigrants from the residency obligations: those who accompany a Canadian citizen outside Canada, or are employed abroad by a Canadian business or the federal or provincial governments.

Immigrants from countries where visas are not needed can also sneak back into Canada without a PR card if they don’t travel by commercial transportation.

Wong, however, warns applicants renewing their PR card to be aware of the long processing time after submitting a renewal application.

He has seen cases where an immigrant has barely met their two-year residency within five years and left Canada as soon as the renewal was filed. But the time elapsed between a submission and when it is actually dealt with may leave the person short on residency days.

“The counting of the five years keeps shifting. People do get trapped,” said Wong. “Yes, the expiry of PR card is not equal to the loss of permanent resident status, because that’s determined by someone’s residency obligation. However, it does lead to status being retained or lost.”

That’s exactly what’s happened to Ranjan Desai, who now must appear before a tribunal to regain her permanent resident status.

“Residency requirements are measured at the date you are applying retrospectively and it needs to be assessed by local officers. In that application, she was required to show that she met the requirements at the time of this application,” said immigration spokesperson Remi Lariviere.

“Her application was assessed by an officer at the visa office in Bangalore and it was determined that she did not meet the residency requirements to remain a permanent resident.”

Torstar News Service

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