Each year, many thousands of people enter Canada as tourists, to travel and see this great country, to visit friends and relatives, or to decide if they wish to immigrate permanently.
Do You Require A Visitor Visa?
Every year, many foreign nationals visit Canada without a visitor visa, or more accurately, a “temporary resident visa.”
This section will discuss when an individual can visit Canada without first obtaining a temporary resident visa (subject to any medical or criminal issues, discussed later).
Country of Citizenship
Only citizens of certain countries require a temporary resident visa before visiting Canada. The list of countries does change fairly regularly.
Click here for a current list of countries whose citizens require a temporary resident visa to visit Canada. A visa must be obtained before you arrive, it can not be applied for at the border or a port of entry.
If you are not a citizen of one of the listed countries, then you do not need to apply for a temporary resident visa.
Length of Time in Canada
Typically a temporary resident visa is issued for up to 6 months. There are circumstances where visitors stay for longer than a 6 month period, discussed below.
Obtaining a Visitor Visa
If you require a visitor visa before entering Canada, there are a number of factors that CIC will consider when reviewing your application.
Consider all the factors discussed here and think about the best evidence you can include in your application in order to maximize your chances of success.
Connections To Your Home Country
Some of the most important factors a visa officer will consider in assessing your application are the connections to your home country.
One of the main tests in issuing a temporary resident visa ( or visitor visa) is this: Will the applicant return to his or her country once his or her status expires?
In trying to answer this question, the visa officer will first look at your connections to your home country.
If you are employed, this is a powerful connection to your home country.
If you can, be sure to include a letter of employment and confirmation in that letter that your absence to visit Canada has been approved.
If you have family in your country of residence, that is an important connection.
If you can, provide copies of the bio-data sections of their passports, along with copies of birth certificates to show relationships.
An affidavit is a good idea if you have no documents to prove the relationship. Your family member can swear an affidavit and state their relationship to you.
Owning property in your country of residence is another powerful connection to your country that you can show.
If you can, provide copies of titles or other documents that show you own the property, and where the property is located.
Do you have obligations in your home country? Perhaps you care for an elderly parent or other relative? Or perhaps you are a leader of a community or volunteer group?
Showing evidence of obligations at home will certainly help you show that you will return to your home country after your visit.
Simply having travelled before is also a good sign that you will return to Canada after your visit.
Be sure to include copies of your passport pages showing your previous travels with your temporary resident visa application.
Supporting Yourself in Canada
Another critical factor you must address in your application is how you will support yourself in Canada. This section will address factors you should consider and think about the evidence you can provide.
How much money do you have available to you while in Canada? CIC will do a rough calculation of food and accommodation to determine if you have enough cash.
Provide evidence of cash in your bank, and have traveller’s cheques while crossing the border – don’t rely solely on credit cards or a visa officer might suspect you don’t have the funds for your trip.
Are there currency restrictions in your home country? Take this into account and find a way to address it.
Staying with Friends or Family
If you will be staying with friends or family, you won’t need as much cash for your trip. You will however need proof that your host will provide lodging and food.
Be sure to have your host in Canada sign a letter stating that you will be staying with them and that they will provide food and lodging.
The letter should state the amount if time you will be staying with them and have an address and contact phone number where they can be reached.
Ability to Leave Canada
The visa officer has to determine if you have the ability to leave Canada after your stay.
Be sure to have booked a return travel ticket to your home country, and that your passport is valid for your entire stay and return trip.
If you don’t have a return ticket because you are unsure when you want to return to your home country, be sure to show enough money to purchase a return ticket to your home country.
Dual Intent to Visit and Apply for Permanent Residence
You can have the intent to visit temporarily, and a longer term intent to immigrate to Canada permanently. This is permitted – you can not be denied entry solely based on the fact that you plan to apply (or have applied) for permanent residence to Canada.
However, you must show that you will leave Canada by the end of your visit. Those factors are listed above.
Long Term Residence (Over 6 Months)
There are some circumstances where individuals wish to visit Canada on a long term basis (over 6 months). This section will address CIC’s approach to these situations.
Note that in addition to the factors below, CIC will also consider factors already discussed above , such as the risk that they will not return to their own country at the end of their visit.
Parents and Grandparents
Often, elderly parents or grandparents who live abroad wish to live in Canada with their Canadian children or grandchildren for extended periods of time.
This is especially so if there is a filed sponsorship application for the parents or grandparents, as these applications can take a very long time, and the family wishes to live together in Canada for as long as possible.
CIC will certainly consider extended visitor visas in these circumstances and will consider the following facts:
One of the most important factors CIC will look at is financial capacity. Either the host in Canada or the parent/grandparent must have sufficient funds to support a long term stay in Canada.
CIC will look for a stable income from the host and no social assistance payments. CIC will also look at the low income cut-off numbers. For 2011, the minimum annual income requirements are as follows (based on the total number of family members to be living together in a household). Note that 2012 figures are slightly higher and will be updated soon:
1 person $22,229
2 people $27,674
3 people $34,022
4 people $41,307
5 people $46,850
6 people $52,838
7 people $58,827
Each additional person requires an additional $5,989 per year.
Achieving the minimum income requirements will not necessarily ensure success however.
You should also provide a records of past and stable employment (such as employment contracts or letters of reference from your employer).
In addition, you should provide a history of bank statements (CIC will look to see if you borrowed money recently just to enhance your chances of a successful application – don’t do this).
The Canadian host should also provide some evidence of their accommodations – whether owned or rented – the space available for visitors, and ensuring the household is stable (for example, the copy of a long term lease or ownership documents).
The other major factor that CIC will consider for a long term visit is the ability to deal with medical emergencies or conditions from a financial perspective.
If possible, be sure to have medical insurance in place for your visitors before entering Canada. The absence of medical coverage may be enough for CIC to deny a long term visit.
If medical insurance is not possible to obtain (for health or other reasons), then be sure to show enough funds to pay for medical emergencies if they arise.
There are no set guidelines with regard to showing funds to cover medical emergencies, so you should show as much as you can in cash, investments and lines of credit.
There may be individuals other than parents or grandparents who have a legitimate reason for a long-term visit.
For example, the spouse of student may have to remain in Canada for years (and may not be able to find work even with an open work permit).
CIC will consider long-term entry for other individuals, and the same factors as those discussed in parents/grandparents (above) will apply.
Financial support, housing, and the ability to deal with medical emergencies are the key factors to address before you attempt to enter Canada.
Where To Apply For A Visitor Visa
You have a choice as to where you will apply for a visitor visa (i.e., temporary resident visa).
You can apply to the CIC office responsible for your home country.
You can also apply to the CIC office responsible for your current country of residence, only if you have been legally admitted to that country.
There are no time restrictions for applying in your current country of residence. For example, even if you are in a country for a few days (legally) you can apply to the visa office responsible for that country.
CIC may continue to process an application sent to the wrong office, or they may transfer the application to the correct office.
However, CIC may also return the application to you, so you are best to ensure you are sending the application to the correct office in the first place.
Click here for a list of CIC offices responsible for various countries.
Documents required To Apply For A Visitor Visa
The minimum documents include the following:
- Application form (IMM5257B)
- Valid Passport
- 2 photos for each family member (follow the photo specifications exactly)
- Permissions for children under a custody arrangement or travelling with one parent
- Bank statements
- Employment letters
- Host in Canada information, including employment income and/or Notice of Assessment
- Evidence of family size
However, you are not restricted to the list of CIC documents . Indeed, you should send more relevant documents to make your case as discussed in this section.
The additional documents you send depend entirely on your unique situation.
Consider the discussion in this guide and think about what you could provide to help make your case.
In addition, be sure to include a detailed cover letter that addresses each point that the visa officer will consider when reviewing the application.
Types of Visitor Visas and Length of Validity
There are two types of visitor visas that can be issued: single-entry and multiple entry.
You select on the application form which type of visa you would like, and pay the appropriate fee (multiple entry visas are more expensive).
Single Entry Visas
A single entry visa allows you to enter Canada one time. However – unknown to most people – you can still travel back and forth to the USA during the validity period of your single entry visa.
You do not need to apply for another single entry temporary resident visa to travel to the US from Canada.
A single entry visa can be issued up to 6 months before the date of travel. Typically single entry visas are issued for 6 months.
Multiple Entry Visas
A multiple entry visa allows you to enter Canada multiple times from your home country.
Multiple entry visas can be issued for up to 5 years (so long as your passport is still valid for that time).
If CIC has any doubt about issuing a multiple entry visa, it will not issue a single entry visa as a compromise – it will simply reject your application.
Renewing Your Visitor Visa
You can renew your visitor visa in Canada before it expires, or possibly, after it expires.
Renewing Your Visa Before it Expires
If you wish to renew your visitor visa, it is important that you file your renewal application before it expires.
With your renewal application, your should include the same materials as you included in your initial application.
In addition, you should include a cover letter listing your reasons for continuing your stay and your plans to return home.
You’ll have a much greater chance of a successful renewal if you have a legitimate reason to continue to stay.
If you can get a letter from your employer in your home country extending your leave of absence, that would be valuable to your application as well.
If you have commitments in your home country that you will have to return to in future, include those.
Remember, CIC is always asking: “Will this person return to his or her home country when the visitor visa expires?”
If you have made future travel arrangements to return home, you should include copies of those as well.
Renewal applications are sent to the Vegreville Case Processing Centre in Alberta.
Applying for a Renewal After Your Visa Expires
If you failed to renew your visitor visa before it expires there is still hope.
You will have to apply for “restoration.” Restoration of your status is a different process with a higher application fee.
You must apply for restoration within 90 days of the day when your visitor visa expired.
This means that CIC must receive your application within 90 days of your visitor visa expiring (and not that you must mail your application within 90 days).
As with most things, CIC has the discretion to deny restoration of your status.
So how do you make a successful restoration application?
In addition to the renewal documents in the application, you absolutely must include a detailed letter explaining why you missed applying for a renewal while your visitor visa was still valid.
Your best chance at success is to provide an explanation where circumstances were beyond your control, if applicable. For example, if you had a medical emergency or an accident and missed the renewal application deadline, CIC would look on this quite favorably.
If your only explanation is that you forgot to renew your visitor visa, then your best chance is to include as much evidence as you can that you will return to your home country after your visit, as discussed above.
Is There An Appeal For a Denied Visa?
There is no easy or automatic appeal for a denied visitor visa.
For example, you are not entitled to appeal a denied visitor visa to the Immigration Appeal Division as you can for a denied sponsorship application.
An appeal of a denied visitor visa can be made to the Federal Court of Canada.
This route of appeal would be costly – retaining a lawyer to appear before this court would come at a significant expense.
As well, you should note that the Federal Court will not simply look at your case and make a decision based on the evidence. Not at all.
At this appeal, you would have to show that CIC made an error in law, not that they came to the wrong decision. You would have to show that they did not follow legislation correctly or applied it incorrectly.
The Federal Court is not an opportunity to simply present all your evidence again and hope for a different result – you will have to show that CIC made fundamental errors when assessing your file.
Canada Human Righs Commission
You may be able to appeal a denied visitor visa to the Canada Human Rights Commission if you believe you were discriminated against.
However, you would need some fairly strong evidence in order to show that you suffered discrimination by a CIC visa officer.
Neither route of appeal is easy or inexpensive – your best option may be to apply for a visitor visa again with stronger evidence.