Each year, thousands of permanent residents discover they cannot return to Canada after substantial time away and face losing their permanent status because of an invalid “Maple Leaf Card,” the Ottawa-issued Canadian Permanent Residence card.
According to government figures, 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 in 2012) 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 Some 5,550 were refused and the rest were withdrawn.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. A PR card does not create or maintain one’s status as a permanent resident per say. It merely serves as proof of that status.
The wallet-sized plastic card expires every five years, and cardholders must apply for new cards until they become Canadian Citizens. But to maintain permanent residence one must live in Canada for at least two years within a five-year period to qualify for renewal. Canadian permanent residents travelling abroad without first renewing their card can end up in trouble.
Section 28(2)(a) of Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) requires a permanent resident to be physically present in Canada for a total of at least 730 days in every five-year period. This is a moving time frame which Canadian permanent residents must respect on an ongoing basis.
Figures show 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 overseas can appeal a decision to an Immigration and Refugee Board tribunal (IRB), and can obtain a one time travel document to re-enter Canada for such purposes, less than one fifth are ultimately 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.
It is estimated that between 5000-6000 lose their Canadian permanent residence each year due to non compliance with Canadian residency requirements.
For those using commercial carriers to travel back to Canada, the law places the onus on such entities to ensure compliance and that travellers have the legal right to travel to Canada.
There are exceptions to the residence requirement, for example, where one is accompanying a Canadian citizen or where a Canadian permanent resident is outside Canada employed on a full-time basis by a Canadian business or the federal or provincial governments and for humanitarian and compassionate considerations.
Immigrants from countries where visas are not needed can easily secure entry back into Canada without a PR card if they don’t travel by commercial transportation.
Applicants renewing their PR card must do so taking into account the long processing times after submitting a renewal application. Current delays now exceed two-months unless an applicant requests and qualifies for expedited processing.