Permanent residency (or “landed immigrant” status as it used to be called) is a big step in any immigrant’s life in Canada, but a lot of people don’t know exactly what it means. Basically, it means that we get all the rights of citizens except for the vote. The vote comes with citizenship in about 2.5 years (given my frequent trips out of the country–you need a certain amount of time to become a citizen). I suspect that I’m also slightly easier to deport than a naturalized citizen, but I don’t plan to find out the specifics on that.
So, what, in effect does permanent residency mean?
1. The main thing is that it means the right to live here and pursue any life I choose. Before permanent residency I was here on a NAFTA work permit which had to be renewed annually or every two years (I got a sympathetic agent last time around). The work permit was tied to my job at McGill and specified that I was not allowed to enroll in any university courses or work in any other professions. Not that I’m planning to become a chef or anything, but nobody wants to be tied to their job forever.
2. The NAFTA work permits don’t go on forever. I think they have a 5-year limit or thereabouts. So permanent residency is indeed permanent in a way that other visas aren’t. And indeed, it does feel like a kind of super-tenure: “now they can’t fire me or kick me out of the country” except, of course, for some kind of gross misconduct.
3. Canadian institutions relate differently to you. For starters, we can now go get different social insurance numbers. Right now, our SINs start with 9s. 9 is the scarlet number. It says “non-permanent foreigner,” as so every institution knows it. Our jobs, our healthcare, our bank, our mortgage broker, and so on and so forth. Everything is tentative and temporary, in need of constant attention and renewal. Those “welcome to Québec” and “welcome to Canada” pamphlets we get might seem hokey (and they are) but as they provide instructions for integrating into Canadian society, they also symbolize crossing over into a different relationship with the country and its institutions. Of course I’ve been busy working on my Canadianization project since coming here in August 2004, but we’re now in a new phase. Or so I feel.
All of these things may seem small in print but they feel big. And that’s what matters.
The actual process of immigration was only slightly anticlimactic (as these things tend to be). After spending thousands of dollars, going through medical tests, getting transcripts, criminal records (or rather proof of their absence), notarized endorsements from friends, and on and on, we got our forms in the mail a few weeks ago. We took them, along with our certificates of selection (and a pile of other documentation we didn’t need) on our thanksgiving trip to Milwaukee. When we landed in Montreal on Sunday, we told the customs agent we were immigrating. She gave us a big smile, a “welcome to Canada” and told us that we’d made her day. “I love it when Americans immigrate.” And with that, we were off to the Canada immigration office where various forms were signed and paperwork was given to us. Having been allowed into Canada, we then had to go through the Quebec office, which is where I received my free copy of “Learing about Québec.” At 3pm on a Sunday, we were the only people immigrating, so the staff were very attentive, made sure to welcome us to Canada, and offered us all sorts of services. We declined most of them since we have been living here, but it would have been interesting to go to the various orientation sessions that the provincial government puts on as it tries to get people to assimilate. With that, we picked up our checked bag, cleared customs, and walked out into the parking lot.
Permanent residents at last.