Welcome to the “How to immigrate to Canada” series, ten articles covering the basics—immigration categories, rights and duties as a permanent resident, first steps as a newcomer and more.
Browse these articles for more info on immigrating to Canada.
(Update Nov. 2020)
“How long does the immigration process take?” is one of the most common questions I get from anyone considering applying for permanent residence in Canada. There’s no hard and fast rules, just average processing times.
So this is what you can expect and this is what you should do to make sure your application is process as fast as possible (don’t expect miracles, though!)
How do you define “processing time”?
“Processing time” should be understood as the period of time that starts when the Government of Canada receives your complete application to the day when a decision is made.
Remember that it takes time—a few weeks or even a few months—to gather supporting documents and prepare your application.
How long will it take for my permanent residence application to be processed?
First, it depends on the immigration category:
- In the Canadian Experience Class, official processing time is 6 months.
- In the skilled workers (Quebec) category, processing time is 15-17 months, mostly because settling in Quebec adds an extra step—getting a CSQ.
- As for family sponsorship, processing time is 12 months for a spouse or common-law partner living inside Canada or outside Canada.
Keep in mind that the Government of Canada is “committed” to process most applications within the given timeframe but there’s no guarantee it’s going to happen. Some applications are processed faster (four months for mine in 2005!) and some take years.
Check processing time for your immigration category to know what to expect.
Why is it taking so long?
First, reviewing a permanent residence application is a long process. Supporting documents must be checked and applications must be assessed carefully. Fair enough. After all, a life-changing decision is being made.
Other factors may also affect average processing time:
How busy the local visa office is
Some regions of the world receive more applications. Not every country has a Canadian visa office and as a result, a central visa office may be responsible for several countries or regions. For example, the Paris visa office is responsible for processing applications from Algeria, Belgium, Libya, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Tunisia. Same goes for the London office, it handles applications from Denmark, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Yemen.
How complex your background check is
A background check is conducted on all permanent resident applicants to prevent individuals who pose a risk to Canada’s security from entering the country—this is why you have to provide police certificate(s). Military service, foreign trips, membership in political organizations, etc., can slow down the process. Some foreign countries also cooperate better with Canada than others.
What you can do to help speed up the process
Fill out your application properly
It sounds obvious, but a lot of people think “oh, I’m not sure what to say here… they will figure it out.” No, “they” won’t. Your application will be sent back and time will be wasted. It may take you a week or two months to gather all documents and fill out your application, but trust me, it will make life easier in the long run.
Provided all required supporting documents
If, for some reason, you really can’t provide a document, send a letter explaining why. I did that for our marriage certificate after learning it would take at least six months to receive a copy. I sent my application and explained why I would add the certificate later—it was accepted.
Provide update if anything changes in your life
Applications can take years to be processed so don’t forget to contact your visa office if you move, get married, have a child, etc.
Choose your immigration category wisely
Make sure you have enough points to apply in the skilled worker category. If you apply in the sponsorship category, make sure you have enough proof that the relationship is genuine. Provide plenty of supporting documents.
If you can, choose your visa office
Some visa offices are busier than others. If you apply outside Canada, unfortunately, you must apply in the country you live in. But if you’re already in Canada, you can apply from within or from outside Canada. For instance, I had the choice between sending my application to Buffalo, NY or to Paris. At the time, Buffalo was extremely busy and I was advised to let Paris handle my application—it paid off, a decision was made only four months later.
Only contact your visa office when you are past the average processing time
The Government of Canada often lets you know how long a specific step will take—3 to 6 months, 5 to 7 months, etc. If you are past the average processing time, you can contact your visa office for updates. I did it twice, once in person at the Canadian embassy in Paris (for my permanent residence application) and once on the phone (for my citizenship application). Both times, my application status was checked and I received news shortly after.
However, wait patiently if you’re still within average processing times.
Keep in mind these two myths
Immigrating through the Quebec process is faster
The permanent residence process is a bit different if you’re going to settle in Quebec. Many French speakers think it’s faster and easier to apply through Quebec regardless of where they will end up living in Canada. It may have been true decades ago but nowadays, it adds an extra step (the CSQ application) and there’s quite a backlog.
An immigration lawyer can speed up the process
No, they can’t. A good, honest immigration representative will always tell you that they can’t speed up the process. The only thing they can do is make sure your application is filled out properly and complete.