The difficulties in travelling AFTER becoming a permanent resident but BEFORE your permanent residence card arrives

October 2017

When I was taking legal ethics courses prior to becoming a lawyer, I was warned against giving ‘cocktail party advice.’ This is when legal advice is given in a social setting, without obtaining the required background information, and properly documenting the advice given.  The Law Society of Ontario frowns upon giving advice in these circumstances.

Well, it wasn’t a cocktail party, but rather a wedding reception. The individual had become a permanent resident just that week.  He was a Christian missionary, and had travel plans to the United States to report to the churches who were supporting the missionary work he was doing in Canada.  He was struggling with how to re-enter Canada after his meetings, as his permanent resident card wouldn’t be mailed to him for about two months.  He was telling me he had been researching how to apply for a Permanent Resident Travel Document (PRTD).  I couldn’t hold it in, ‘But you don’t need a Permanent Resident Travel Document’, I blurted out, ‘You are a US citizen.  You can just present your US passport and then get on the plane.’

Oops. I’d just given cocktail party advice.  Of course, I then had to explain why US citizens who are permanent residents do not need a PR card or PRTD to get on a plane to fly to Canada, even though there is absolutely no reference to this on the Canadian immigration website.  The short version is this:  US citizens do not need a visa or electronic travel authorization (eTA) to fly to Canada.  Airline staff are unaware of who is a permanent resident of Canada and who is not.  Upon arrival in Canada, alternate documentation can be presented to establish their permanent resident status to Canada Border Services Agency officials, including the signed Confirmation of Permanent Residence document. 

If he had not been a US citizen, entry into Canada would have been much more problematic. Most individuals need a visa or eTA to enter Canada.  Once you become a permanent resident, you are no longer a ‘visitor’ to Canada, and you cannot be issued a visa or eTA.  The airlines can only accept a permanent resident card or PRTD.  Short of flying into the US and driving to a land border (where alternate documentation can be presented to CBSA officials), flying into Canada before the permanent resident card is received is almost impossible.  PRTD applications must be made outside of Canada, and can take several weeks to process.  For someone travelling only for a week of meetings, this is not feasible. 

There is a very simple solution to this problem. Immigration could decide to make visas and eTAs valid for three months after permanent residency is confirmed, to allow time for the permanent resident card to be made then mailed to the individual.  (I am very hopeful someone from Immigration is reading this blog post!)

At the end of my conversation with the missionary, he thanked me, and told me that he and his wife had been praying for a solution to the problem which was created by not having his permanent resident card. Apparently, I was the answer to their prayers.  So, I would argue to the Law Society that it is okay to give cocktail party advice, so long as you're doing the Lord's work.