Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is Creeping You: How Your Social Media Use Can Affect Your Immigration Application

July 2018


Following what is going on in someone's life by watching their status messages on Instant Messengers such as MSN, and their updates to their social networking profiles on websites like Facebook or MySpace.


Have you applied for temporary or permanent residence status in Canada? You should know that there is a very good chance that IRCC will be looking at your social media profile.  Do you profess to have worked for a certain company?  Your LinkedIn profile can confirm or contradict that claim. It can also substantiate whether you worked there for the dates you indicated in your application.  Any discrepancies can affect the reliability of your application. 

Social media use also plays an important role in evaluating whether a marriage is genuine. Individuals who wish to sponsor a spouse to Canada can provide social media information showing a public relationship to fulfill one of the two documentary requirements for proof of their relationship.  Spouses not living together at the time of the application are permitted to provide up to 10 pages of social media conversations, to provide proof of contact between them.

In Tang v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2009 CanLII 90286 (CA IRB), the Immigration Appeal Division had to deal with a case where IRCC was suspicious when chat logs dates seemed inconsistent with information given by the couple concerning the timing of their engagement:

[21]           Eventually the subject of marriage is raised.  Now it is here that the respondent expressed concern over the apparent inconsistency between the stated date of the proposal and the chat log record that would seem to establish a different date.  According to the testimony of the appellant and applicant the subject of marriage came up in the course of their playing an on-line game on April 26, 2006.  According to the appellant, the applicant took her to a nice place in the game and started to buy her many nice "virtual” things.  It was here that they both insist the applicant proposed.

In this case, the Immigration Appeal Board reversed the decision of the immigration officer who had originally denied the sponsorship application, commenting that:

[33]      Finally, the panel has read most of the chat logs.  Conspicuously absent from them is any overt reference to immigration to Canada.  The couple do not dwell on their situation but rather are focused on day-to-day things and the trivial issues of life.  The panel finds no immigration motive.

If you are applying to renew your permanent resident card, or apply for citizenship, this is another opportunity for immigration officers to verify information given to them against your online profile.

In Shahein v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) 2015 FC 987, the Federal Court of Canada upheld the dismissal of an application for citizenship where there were questions about whether the physical presence requirement had been met.  Information declared on the application was inconsistent with the applicant’s LinkedIn profile:

[7]               Dr. Shahein’s “LinkedIn” profile states that he was a Pediatric Intern at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio from February of 2013 to May of 2014. This was inconsistent with Dr. Shahein’s statement to the Citizenship Judge that he only began working at the hospital in July of 2013.

The Immigration and Refugee Board also uses social media research. In 2012 the Immigration and Refugee Protection Division introduced Chairperson’s Instructions for Gathering and Disclosing Information for Refugee Protection Division Proceedings. 

Here are two examples of how Facebook posts were used to discredit refugee claimants:

[15]           The Minister’s representative asked the RPD to reject the refugee protection claim because of the claimant’s contradictory statements regarding the identity of members of her family. More specifically, he submits that the information appearing on her Facebook page and on the Facebook page of someone named XXXX XXXX, presented in the BOC Form as the claimant’s brother, raises serious doubts as to the truth of her statements in the BOC Form regarding the fact that she would have to submit to a forced marriage if she were to return to the DRC.

X (Re), 2016 CanLII 104453 (CA IRB)

[37]           The Appellant alleged that she received many threatening messages from her ex-husband on her Facebook account under the name XXXX XXXX. She testified at her hearing that she deleted the messages and then deleted the account two weeks before the April 8, 2015 sitting of her hearing. She also testified that she had not used this account since leaving the Czech Republic in 2014. The Appellant indicated that she has been using a new Facebook account under the alias, XXXX XXXX XXXX, to avoid detection by her ex-husband. However, the research documents revealed that immediately after the April 8, 2015 sitting, the Facebook account of XXXX XXXX existed, when the Appellant alleges she deleted it two weeks prior to April 8, 2015. The research documents also revealed that the Appellant had posted a number of photographs of herself from September 2014 to January 2015, including photographs with her boyfriend. The research documents revealed that the Facebook account of XXXX XXXX no longer existed on April 13, 2015, suggesting that the Appellant cancelled the account after her April 8, 2015 sitting.

X (Re), 2015 CanLII 108263 (CA IRB)

Social media has become a big part of our lives. It is no surprise that Canadian immigration officials would use it to verify the information provided by applicants.  You would be well advised to check yourself online before submitting your application, to ensure that your information online is consistent.  Presume that you will be ‘creeped’!

What is Your Success Rate? Why this isn't the question to ask when searching for an immigration lawyer

June 2018

I’m often asked by prospective clients what my ‘success rate’ is for a particular type of application. I presume that unless it is close to 100%, they are not interested in hiring me.

However, I don’t think this is the right question to ask. If my success rate was 100%, that would mean I never took on files that had the potential to be rejected.  What kind of advocate would I be if I was unwilling to take on the hard cases?

Take humanitarian and compassionate applications. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada grants first stage approval of these applications at a rate of 56%.  Decision making is highly discretionary. An application one officer might approve could be rejected by another. 

Refugee claims would be another example. The success rate for claims from Nigerians was 61.9% for ‘legacy claims’ and 49.5% for ‘new system claims’ in 2017.  I did an audit of my own cases and found my success rate for Nigerian claims is 50%.  Does not winning every case mean I’m not a good lawyer, even though my success rate matches the overall rates?  Also consider that I may have been unlucky to be before a decision maker with a notoriously low acceptance rate.  The study cited above notes:

In 2017, some Refugee Protection Division (RPD) decision-makers granted refugee status in most of the cases they heard, including J. Bousfield (97.9%), L. Cole (95.2) and R. Kotovych (94.3%). Others granted refugee protection much less frequently, including C. Wittenberg (19.2%), T. Maziarz (21.4%) and B. Lloyd (22.0%).

Don’t even get me started with Express Entry applications, where technical issues continue to wreak havoc. I had a client’s application rejected because of failure to provide his university diploma.  We had provided his diploma; the upload link for his educational documentation simply vanished after the application was submitted.  I filed a Case Specific Inquiry requesting a review of his application.  When that was denied, I escalated the matter further to Case Review.  Since my complaints were falling on deaf ears, we simply submitted a new application.  He and his family recently arrived in Canada.  I did all the additional work at no extra charge to the client.  But I can’t boast of a 100% success rate for Express Entry. 

So, if not basing your decision on success rate, how should you choose your immigration lawyer?

First of all, you need to know whether you are hiring a lawyer, a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant, or an unregistered ‘ghost’ consultant.  Hiring the latter could see you barred from Canada for 5 years.   Both registered consultants and Canadian lawyers are permitted to provide immigration law advice.  Consultants have six months of training.  On the other hand, lawyers have a minimum of five years of university training, are required to complete extensive licensing exams, and article for nine months with a senior practitioner before being permitted to practice.  I know both good consultants and bad lawyers.  However, training does make a difference.

When hiring a lawyer, consider their areas of practice. Immigration law is constantly being updated.  It would be very challenging for a lawyer practicing family law, real estate law, criminal law and civil litigation to stay on top of recent developments in immigration law.  Rather than asking about the lawyer’s success rate, better questions to ask are what percentage of their practice consists of immigration law, and what are the number of applications like yours they have submitted recently.

Ask who will do the work on your matter. Will a lawyer oversee the work which will be done primarily by a paralegal or law clerk?  Firms who practice in this manner may be able to offer you a reduced rate.  But you will not get the personal attention that you would from a lawyer who will take full responsibility for your matter.  I recently received an inquiry from a potential client that described her experiences dealing with a large firm:

Last year, immigration services did not approve my study permit, so I am applying one more time. The previous lawyers did a really bad job with my case.  They passed my case twice to different lawyers, and the person who was in communication with me was the assistant and not the lawyer.

Our office does have a (totally wonderful) legal administrative assistant. Her contact with clients is restricted to billing issues, and occasionally some data entry questions.  All legal work done in our firm is done by lawyers.

Run away from any individual who guarantees you your application will be successful. Decisions are made by IRCC, not your representative.  Anyone guaranteeing you success is just after your money.

Free assessments are not a legal consultation. You may have enough Express Entry points, but your DUI is going to prevent you from immigrating unless your criminal inadmissibility is dealt with.  Representatives offering free consultations are really just trying to sell you their services.  We find that many clients are comfortable completing the application on their own after getting some preliminary advice in a consultation appointment.  It is money well spent.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone in my office after things had gone badly.  If they’d had legal advice from the beginning to steer them on the right path, they might not have had their application denied, or worse, had a family member permanently excluded from being eligible for sponsorship. 

When you hire a lawyer, you are not just ‘buying the time’ they spend on your matter. They have developed their expertise by going to legal conferences, reading about legislative and policy developments, consulting with colleagues on difficult matters, and learning to use new technologies to better manage client communication and documents.  Ask whether your lawyer belongs to a professional association such as the Canadian Bar Association.  Find out when they last attended a legal conference specifically devoted to immigration law.  Enquire about whether they have published any papers or been consulted by the media.

As for our firm, we’d be happy to answer your questions as you make your decision. Now you know which questions will be more helpful over others. Whether it’s for a consultation or for representation for your immigration application, we appreciate that hiring representation is a major investment which requires careful thought. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Finished School and Ready to Work? Read this before applying for your Post-Graduate Work Permit

May 2018

The last semester of studies is tough. Between coffee runs, final papers, and all-nighter cramming sessions, it’s hard enough to find time to eat and sleep. My associate reports that it used to take her quite some time before she could conversate like a normal human being, preferring to spend her days in a Netflix coma.

International students face additional pressures after final exams. With expiry dates of their study permits looming, they must either prepare to leave Canada, or, if they are eligible, apply for a post-graduate work permit (PGWP).  Some students are already in part-time jobs and may wish to pick up more shifts. Others have already been accepted for jobs and are ready to dive right into their new positions.  

International students face a complexity of rules and regulations surrounding working in Canada. Last month, we wrote a newsletter about common issues which arise when international students work during their studies.

The period after final exams and before PGWPs are received is another tricky time, where not knowing the rules can lead to disastrous consequences. International students must ensure that they do not work without the proper authorization during this time, or they may jeopardize their chances of continuing to live and work in Canada.  

Rules Regarding Permissible Work at Different Stages of the Post-Graduate Work Permit Application Process

1. When Exams Are Finished 

Once exams are finished, international students may work until the first date they receive written confirmation that they have met the requirements of their program. This could be by way of an email, or a letter, or in receiving their final transcript which shows they have passed all their courses.  Their study permit must remain valid during this period.

However, during this time, they may only work part-time. This is opposed to the full-time hours they were permitted to work when they were previously on summer vacation during their full-time studies.

Once they are given notice that they’ve fulfilled the program requirements, international students must stop working immediately. This operational manual explains this in further detail. 

2. When Applying for the Post-Graduate Work Permit

Once international graduates have received written confirmation that they’ve completed their program requirements, they are only permitted to work once they have applied for their PGWP. They must apply for the PGWP within 90-days of receiving the confirmation of program completion.  Their study permit must still be valid when they apply.  If it expires sooner than 90 days, then the window of time to apply is even shorter. Graduates must use the correct application guide and can apply either by mail or online.

3. While the Post-Graduate Work Permit is Being Processed

Once the application for the PGWP has been submitted, students are permitted to work full-time until the final decision on the application has been made. This authority to work is based on section 186(w) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations. Be alert, however, that this only applies if conditions at this link are met.

Of note is that this authority to work is not based on having implied status after submitting an application. For this reason, even if graduates travel outside Canada during the processing of their applications, they will be permitted to work upon return. For more, see the IRCC Help Centre page titled ‘I’m waiting for my post-graduation work permit. Can I travel outside Canada and come back with my student visa?’.

Graduates should keep in mind that being able to work during the processing of the application is a fantastic opportunity, since work experience earned during this time counts for points in Canada’s Canadian Experience Class Program. Further, work done while waiting for processing to take place will be included when calculating Comprehensive Ranking System points for Canadian experience. 

If a graduate’s PGWP duration is relatively short, these extra few months of work could mean the difference between having accumulated 1 year of work experience and qualifying for the Canadian Experience Class, versus falling short and having to return home.      

4. When Post-Graduate Work Permit is Approved

Graduates with valid PGWPs can work for any employer, up to the date of expiry on their permit. At this point, students should really focus on not squandering their PGWP.   The PGWP is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity. If international graduates don’t obtain the right skill level of work experience in Canada, their chances of applying for permanent residence in the future may be lost.  

Students who Have Worked Without Proper Authorization

As seen above, the rules regarding permission to work fluctuates between being able to work part-time, to full-time, to not at all. These rules are not clear on the government’s website. We routinely have graduates come to our office who didn’t even realize they worked without authorization until we told them.

Working without authorization is a violation of Canadian Immigration laws and makes the graduate inadmissible to Canada. Further, not disclosing it on the post-graduate work permit application, or any other future application, could result in a finding of misrepresentation against the graduate. This could lead to a bar from Canada for 5 years. If you are an international graduate and have realized after the reading the above that you are working without authorization, stop working immediately and seek out legal advice. If you have worked without authorization, obtain legal advice before submitting any type of immigration application.

Missed Deadlines

Missing the deadline to apply within the 90-day window or during the validity of the study permit can happen for many reasons. For example, a graduate may think that the official confirmation of completion of a program is the convocation date, which is not the case. In other cases, the graduate may have applied for the PGWP in time, only to have the application rejected because the improper fee was paid (such as failure to pay the additional $100 open work permit fee). This leaves them outside of the 90-day window to re-apply.

If the student is within 90 days of losing their status, applicants in these cases may be permitted to submit a restoration of status request. However, there is no guarantee of success, and graduates will not be permitted to work during the wait time. Graduates may also be outside of this second 90-day window. Further, sometimes matters are complicated due to unauthorized work prior to losing status. In these cases, it is highly advisable that a lawyer is consulted, as creative solutions may exist to solve the problem.  

When should international students get immigration advice?

International students should speak to an immigration lawyer or registered immigration consultant during their last semester, to review their eligibility for a PGWP and to ensure that there are no inadmissibility issues. They can also ask questions about applying for permanent residency, so they know what to expect once they have the required Canadian work experience.  Immigration law is constantly changing, and it is important students get information about eligibility requirements before their status in Canada expires. 

That way, they’ll be clear about the rules, and can spend their post-exam days enjoying some well-deserved Netflix time.

How many immigrants does Canada need?

March 2018

I am a ‘basketball mom’. Less familiar than ‘soccer mom’, this phrase describes a person who spends most of her free time ferrying children to basketball practices and driving to tournaments hours away from home.  A high tolerance for whistle blowing is required for the role.

Why I’m Not Worried My Job Will be Taken Over by a Robot

February 2018

A recent article entitled, ‘Is artificial intelligence the future of immigration in Canada?’ describes an upcoming computer program that will be the ‘best artificially and emotionally intelligent virtual immigration advisor in Canada’.  It will work as an ‘AI-based chatbot’, which will help immigration applicants complete the required forms.  It promises to slash the costs associated with coming to Canada. 

Medical Inadmissibility

December 2017

On November 7th, 2017, Norma Lee MacLeod, the host of CBC Maritime Noon, invited myself, along with York University professor Felipe Montoya, to discuss the medical inadmissibility provision in the Immigration Refugee Protection Act. I spent countless hours preparing, so that I would be ready for any question that might be posed.  In my research, I discovered that truth is stranger than fiction.