Visiting Canada – getting over the initial hurdles

IN recent years millions of persons come to visit Canada. According to estimates of the Canadian Tourism Commission, in 2012 there were over 16 million overnight arrivals to Canada, of which nearly 12 million were from the United States. The second largest source of overnight arrivals was the United Kingdom, with 600,000 arrivals. Next was France with about 421,000. India was listed seventh, with 171,000 overnight arrivals. Included in the mixture are temporary residents who stay to work or attend school. While many are allowed into Canada, some are refused entry when they arrive, while many others are refused temporary resident visas they are required to have before they arrive here.

The immigration regulations set out rules on how people may apply to come to Canada, depending on what their intention is. The first distinction is a list of visa-exempt countries, whose citizens do not have to apply for a temporary resident visa before coming to Canada. The list of visa-exempt countries changes from time to time, depending upon a variety of factors, including whether or not certain foreign nationals are abusing the privilege of entering Canada by overstaying their visits. At present the visa-exempt list includes about 45 countries, primarily in Europe and including the United States, Australia and New Zealand. India was on the list until it was dropped in October, 1981, where it has remained ever since.

The temporary resident visa requirement creates an additional burden for potential visitors. Time and money has to be spent to complete application forms, gather supporting documents and to file the application. Depending on where the person applies, the process can be done within a week or can take several weeks.

Once an applicant has gathered information, completed the necessary forms and submitted them with the required processing fee, the application is reviewed by an officer who decides the application. Depending where a person applies, the process may require a personal interview. In the past decade, as government has worked to reduce its costs, more applications are decided without an interview. That means an applicant has to present all the best possible evidence to support their application in writing.

When deciding an application, a visa officer considers whether or not the applicant meets the requirements to apply and is not inadmissible. Persons may be inadmissible for a variety of reasons, including having a criminal record or serious health issues. The principle test applied to all applicants for a temporary visa is whether or not the applicant intends to remain in Canada temporarily. If an officer believes a person may want to remain in Canada indefinitely, the application will be refused.

There are a variety of factors an officer may look at. None of the factors are set out in the rules, nor will you find them in any instruction manual for officers or in the guidebooks the provided on the immigration website. Typically, an officer is concerned with any evidence that would show the applicant will return to their home country, rather than stay in Canada. Does the person have a job? What assets, including real property, do they have in the home country? Do they have immediate family members in the home country? What family members do they have in Canada? What is the reason for their visit? Do they have the means to support themselves for their expected stay?

If refused, it is usually done with a short cursory letter, with little explanation in it. Many failed applicants complain about not knowing why they were refused. The only way to get a detailed response is to apply to obtain a copy of the visa officer’s file.

Remedies against refused applications are limited. There is no formal right to have the decision reconsidered, though that may occur. The only legal remedy is to apply for judicial review in the Federal Court in Canada. That means hiring a lawyer in Canada, a costly or impractical matter for most applicants. The Federal Court’s powers of review are limited, as a judge looking at the case decides only if the decision was unreasonable based on the information provided by the applicant. If the applicant failed to provide sufficient information, an officer may not be faulted on their conclusion.

An applicant can always reapply, with more information to address the issues that concerned the visa officer. The best remedy is to be prepared to deal with the matter at the start by becoming informed about what is needed. That may involve seeking professional help with counsel experienced in these issues.

William Macintosh started practising as an immigration lawyer in 1984. You can reach him for advice or help on any immigration or citizenship matter at 778-714-8787 or by email at