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July 10th 2015 will be a really special day. It’ll be ten years since my husband and I became Canadian permanent residents and heard those magic words “Welcome to Canada!”To celebrate, I’ll be running a series of “Top Ten” posts across the month of July. Discover my top ten best things about living in Canada and my top ten best moments in Canada – so far!

Plus – I’m also excited to announce the launch of my new ebook “Moving to Canada: an A-Z guide.”

New ebook: Moving to Canada: an A-Z guide

Dreaming of moving to Canada? Not sure where to start? “Moving to Canada: an A-Z guide” is your quick reference guide to successfully moving to Canada and making the most of your new life. You’ll discover:

• The information you need in a clear, easy-to-read A-Z format
• Latest changes to the immigration rules
• Confusing acronyms explained
• Why you don’t need to hire an immigration consultant
• How to get the most out of your first few months in Canada

Whether you’re looking for information on immigration starting points, house hunting, finding a job, or daily life in Canada, “Moving to Canada: an A-Z guide” has it covered. Start making your Canadian dream a reality!

Moving to Canada: an A-Z guide is now available through amazon.com (http://amzn.to/1FkCAGq) and amazon.co.uk (http://amzn.to/1QBkyf8) or your local Amazon site.

And on top of all that, Wednesday will be Canada Day – giving us a mid-week break this year instead of a long weekend. Happy Canada Day!

If you’ve reached the point where you’re considering applying for Canadian citizenship, it’s important to know about some recent rule changes.

The most significant change concerns residency requirements. You now have to have been resident in Canada for four out of the six years before you apply–an increase from 3 years. Additionally, you have to be “physically present” for a minimum of 183 days per year of those 4 years.  So under the new rules, I’d have had to wait an extra year before applying (I became a Canadian citizen in 2010).

The language rules have become a lot stricter too. All applicants between the ages of 14-64 have to meet the English/French language requirements and pass the knowledge test. Previously the age range was 18-54. And use of interpreters is no longer allowed.

For full details of all the changes, go to http://bit.ly/1Cej8er. You can begin your citizenship application at http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/citizenship/become.asp.

Congratulations to Zoe Cremin, a software engineer originally from Ireland, who last month started working at Sycle.net Technologies Ltd. in Vancouver. Zoe’s case is special because she’s the first provincial nominee to become a permanent resident via Express Entry—the British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) in this case.

The last month has seen immigration ministers from across Canada getting together to discuss economic immigration. As always seems to be the case, the focus was on ways to improve “labour market outcomes” for new immigrants and ensure that Canada remains a destination of choice for skilled workers seeking to relocate. $1 billion is being invested in settlement services across Canada during 2015-16.

Express Entry (of course) was discussed, as well as the continued importance of PNPs. The aim is to have economic immigrants make up 70% of all Canadian immigrants within the next few years, although no target date has been given. Currently this figure stands at 63%. B.C. Minister, Shirley Bond, is quoted as saying: “with one million job openings anticipated as a result of retirements and economic growth, the Express Entry program will be an important way to help meet our workforce needs.” The situation is likely to be similar across other provinces.

There’s also a push to increase the number of French speakers entering Canada. But for anyone thinking of moving to Quebec, a reminder that their immigration system is completely separate, so they weren’t involved in these discussions at all.

Coming months will see an ongoing series of consultations with the private sector, as well as continued close analysis of labour market data with regards to setting immigration levels. Does this mean that things will be changing again in the not-too-distant future, I wonder. Hopefully not too soon as we’re all still just getting used to Express Entry.

In other immigration news, the Citizenship and Immigration Minister announced that the 50,000th Super Visa has recently been issued. The approval percentage is high for these visas—80% approval and processed within 3 months! Definitely good news for anyone hoping to bring over parents and grandparents for extended stays.

Any finally, to Ontario where the Ontario Immigration Act has recently been passed. This establishes collaboration as a key goal in addressing labour market needs and successful integration of immigrants into all communities across Ontario. Partners will include federal and local governments as well as employers and the non-profit sector. The act also supports the expansion of Ontario’s provincial nominee program.

It’s good to see that economic immigration is high on the agenda right now and that all levels of government—federal, provincial, and territorial—are working together to seek improvements. If you’re thinking of making the move to Canada and have the necessary job skills and experience, now is a good time to be considering your options. Canada definitely wants you!

Over the last 8 months, I’ve learnt far more than I ever wanted to about Canada’s–and specifically Ontario’s–healthcare system: hospitals, home care,  the patient experience… not to mention the costs involved.

Back in October my husband Dave, who has type 2 diabetes,  suddenly found himself battling a badly infected foot ulcer He was signed off work and hooked up to IV antibiotics with regular nursing care at home. But the antibiotics weren’t helping and he was advised to report to the emergency room at the hospital.

After being admitted to hospital (after the expected wait of several hours), Dave was under the care of a vascular surgeon and placed on a stronger, different mix of antibiotics. But the infection was just getting worse. The surgeon advised that a partial foot amputation was the safest option to stem the infection This was a hugely traumatic thing to deal with, but with the possibility of the infection spreading beyond the foot and becoming life threatening, it seemed like the only thing to do.

Surgery was successful and after a week in hospital, Dave was discharged. Our daily life now required a lot of adjustments–accessibility had never even entered into our minds when we bought the house.  But at least he was back home and the healing process could begin.

But after a few weeks it became clear that the foot wasn’t healing properly. At a follow-up visit at the hospital, a lower leg amputation was recommended as the best available option and a date for surgery booked. As you can imagine, this was the lowest point. We tried to deal with it as best we could and there was plenty of very, very black humour flying around.

Over the following days I immersed myself in wound care research, looking desperately for alternative options. I came across many different treatments that hadn’t been offered to my husband; in fact they hadn’t even been mentioned. How could it be right that his surgeon just wanted to amputate without trying any of these, without giving things a chance? Dave too was having major doubts, not least because his home care nurse was seeing signs of improvement in the foot. So he decided to refuse the surgery.

Here we are 8 months later and the wound area on the foot has shrunk dramatically, although there’s still a long way to go. After relying on a walker and wheelchair for several months, Dave’s progressed to short walks on flat trails with a cane for support. I’m so proud of him for his determination and positive attitude through all this. We’ve also had a great back-up team: homecare nurse, chiropodist, and the support of family, friends, and work colleagues, who were really there for us during the worst times.

All of this has definitely been a learning experience.  So many people have told us that because surgeons are paid per surgery, they’re way too quick to operate and don’t have any interest in wound care. So amputation is–for them–the quick and easy solution.

The availability of healthcare and treatment options can also vary widely depending where you live. Had we been in Toronto, perhaps things would have been different. It seems also that Canada lags behind the US and the UK in terms of advanced wound care. Even living just 20 minutes out of town has an impact; it’s harder to get nursing coverage at weekends and public holidays because no one wants to drive out so “far.”

How much did all this cost us? The surgery, cost of medication while in hospital, and the hospital bed in a shared ward, was covered under OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan). Upgrading to a private ward or 2-person ward wasn’t covered, but we were able to claim this through my work benefits with Sun Life. These schemes typically cover your spouse and children for up to 80% of costs that aren’t covered on your provincial health scheme. Even with benefits, the cost of assorted prescription medications soon adds up.

We had to buy a walker after the initial free rental period, as well as paying for some adjustments for the bathroom. It may be the last thing on your mind during a health crisis, but keep copies of all your medical expenses and any costs involved in making accommodations at home. Try and get prescriptions for as much as possible as you may be able to claim the tax back on these costs later on.

We were able to claim Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits, but these only lasted 15 weeks, which is crazily short when dealing with a major health issue. Other options for disability benefits may be available after that (they weren’t to us), but are means-tested. To move onto regular EI benefits, you have to be certified as “fit to work” by a doctor and be actively looking for work.

If you, or a family member, has diabetes, check whether there’s a diabetic clinic in your area. If you have doubts about your family doctor–and after all this we had severe doubts–you can be signed off their list. Just make sure you request a copy of your medical records before you leave. No family doctor is better than a bad one. Dave is now signed up with a nurse practitioner at the local diabetic clinic and we’ll make use of walk-in clinics as needed.

Be sure to do your own research using reputable sources of information and above all, never be afraid to question, or ask for a second opinion.

More information

Medical expenses eligible for tax deductions

Disability tax credit

Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits

Disability benefits

Express Entry is up and running! Back in November when I first wrote about this scheme, details were sketchy. However, the launch went ahead on January 1st as planned and affects the way applications are processed in the following immigration categories:

Federal Skilled Worker,
Federal Skilled Trades,
Canadian Experience Class.

Once you’ve applied for Express Entry,  your profile is valid for twelve months, after which you have 60 days to resubmit. Any later than that and you’ll need to send in a completely new profile. To be accepted into the “express entry pool,” you have to meet the requirements of at least one of the above mentioned immigration streams.

If you don’t already have a job offer from a Canadian employer, or a nomination from a province or territory (via the Provincial Nominee Scheme), you’ll also be required  to register for the government Job Bank site.

Once you’re “in the pool,” you stand a chance of being invited to apply for permanent residency. Regular “draws” will take place throughout the year to select applicants. Those invited to apply will be those considered the best qualified to match current labour market needs.

Candidates are ranked via the Comprehensive Ranking System. This is a points system based on education, work experience and skills, and language ability. The knowledge and skills of your spouse are also taken into account. If you’re a qualified candidate with a Canadian job offer, or you’re being nominated through the PNP, you’re in prime position and guaranteed the first chances to apply.

If you receive a coveted invitation, you then have 60 days to send in your application for permanent residency plus the all-important application fee. The promise is that “the majority of” express entry applications will be processed within 6 months. We will see!

Also new in 2015 – specially for all those millionaires reading my blog :) – is the Immigrant Investor Venture Capital program. The time-frame for applications is ridiculously short (Jan 28 – Feb 11), but only 60 immigrants are being accepted initially through this pilot scheme. If judged successful, it’ll then be expanded. Apparently the old scheme, rife with accusations of fraud, was labelled as “cash for citizenship,” so it’s not surprising they’re going for a relaunch.

For most of us though, Express Entry is the main focus and it’ll be interesting to see whether it delivers on its promises. Have you applied through Express Entry? Do you think it makes it easier or harder for potential immigrants to get into Canada?

I recently received a question recently from a student wanting to know how to research the average starting salary for his prospective career. He was interested in salaries within Ontario, but also in Canada as a whole. He’d taken a look at some job listing sites and company web sites, but these weren’t giving him the overall picture he was looking for.

To answer his question, I turned to the Canadian government web site Working in Canada. This site wasn’t around – at least not in this form – when I moved to Canada–and I think it’s a fantastic tool for beginning your job research.

 

Homepage for Working in Canada web site

Homepage for Working in Canada web site

 The site is very simple and user friendly. Just plug your job title into the search box and the site returns a set of job listings from across Canada, with salary information where provided. You can then play around with your results and filter by the following categories:

Province
Language at work
Education levels
Type of job, i.e. permanent/temporary/casual

You also limit your search to jobs posted in the last 48 hours, a useful feature if you’re checking the site regularly, and sign up for job alerts.

It’s also useful to check out the Job Market Trends and News section. This provides information on new business developments, expansions and layoffs within Canada. Currently, for example, you can read about the Maritime Link power project in Nova Scotia, which expects to hire up to 300 people during the course of the project. Keeping an eye on this column allows you to get a feel for where the job market is strongest in Canada for your profession—and some of the areas you might want to avoid. The average weekly earnings by province also make interesting reading. Not surprisingly, Alberta heads the pack, followed by Saskatchewan then Newfoundland and Labrador.

If you want to zone in on a particular region within a province, you can do that too. For example, by searching for news for the North East of Ontario, I see that a company called IBS (unfortunate acronym), which distributes lead acid batteries, is expanding in Sudbury. Or if we take a look at Prince Edward Island, which has the lowest average weekly earnings in Canada—so many of its jobs being seasonal—you can see that a steel fabrication company has received a $5M government loan, which will hopefully lead to 30 or 40 jobs being created there. And whichever province or region you’re researching, you can be sure of reading that Walmart is expanding there. I’m not sure if that makes for good news or not!

Of course you’ll want to supplement your job research with other information sources, but Working in Canada is a very useful starting point and is great for a snapshot view of your career prospects in Canada.

 

In my New Year’s quest to be more efficient and organised (we’ll see how long that lasts!), I figured I should check the expiry dates on my Canadian and UK passports. My UK passport runs out this summer, so I figured now was a good time to sort out the renewal.

When my husband renewed his UK passport a few years back, he was able to send it to Ottawa. Now it has to go to the UK, but the actual application and fee payment is all done online, making the process quite a bit easier. You then need to mail photos, a signed declaration form, your current UK passport plus any other non-expired passports. For me, this meant sending in my Canadian passport which I felt very uncomfortable about. So I made sure I took copies of everything I was posting.

Canadian and UK passports

The required photo size for UK passports is ridiculously small – much smaller than the photos in Canadian passports. I had my photos taken at our local Canadian Superstore and the woman in the photo studio had quite a job cutting them to size. Thank goodness there was no requirement to have someone certify the photos; it would be difficult to fit on a signature. The photo in my Canadian passport has me looking like an escaped convict and the new ones aren’t much better. Plus it looks like my eyes aren’t open very wide, so I’m hoping this won’t lead to my application being rejected.

I checked at my local post office what would be the most secure method of sending the package as I didn’t want to take any chances with my precious Canadian passport. I was able to send it as registered mail for $20.00, so someone will have to sign for it when it arrives, plus I can track the delivery.

For more information on renewing a UK passport from overseas, go to https://www.gov.uk/overseas-passports.

With current processing times for visa applications getting ever longer, it’s easy to understand why applicants for Canadian immigration become so disheartened. Having had a two and a half year wait between application and finally moving to Canada, I can certainly sympathise and remember all too vividly just how hard it was. The lucky few make it over earlier on temporary works visas, but this is just not possible for the majority. So what’s the best way of coping during the long wait and how can you make productive use of your time?

First of all, don’t completely put your life on hold. It might be several years before you get to Canada, and you can’t pin your whole existence on waiting for news. Use the time to catch up with friends and family you might not have seen in a while, visit all those places nearby that you always meant to see, but have never got round to. For anyone living in Europe, you might decide to take the chance to visit some European countries relatively easily and cheaply while you’re still over there. (European travel becomes a very expensive endeavor once you’re here.)All that said, you also need a balance with preparing for your future life in Canada.

Aside from possible vacations or research trips to Canada (everyone needs a break :)), try and save as much money as possible. My husband and I were relying on the equity in our house for our settlement funds, but ended up receiving a far lower price than anticipated. We wished then that we’d saved more and been far more focused on what was ahead of us.

Think carefully before buying new household items, particularly electronic ones. Ask yourself:

Will it work in Canada?
Do I really need it?
Would I take it with me?

If you have a house you plan to sell, start on any renovations early on and work on them in stages at your leisure. I’m speaking from experience here, as we ended up trying to get everything done on a crazy schedule in just a few months!

Ultimately, don’t ever give up. I reached rock bottom during the delay with our medical results, then again the following year when our house in England took so long to sell and my husband and I were living in different countries for six months. But I got through it, and so will you. For some of you, moving to Canada may still seem a very long way in the future, but you will make it!