Several years ago, there was a story in the local newspaper about a couple on central Vancouver Island who thought that they could simply live in British Columbia as visitors all year round. They had been told that simply crossing the border and returning would allow them to extend their status for another six months. Having purchased a home, several heads of cattle and living a comfortable lifestyle, they renewed their extension once, and were about to renew it for a second time when the immigration officer asked a few more questions than usual. Upon hearing that they had settled quite comfortably into their farm lifestyle, the immigration officer indicated that they would have two weeks to settle all of their affairs and remove themselves from Canada indefinitely.
What these two misdirected individuals had been doing was “flagpoling”: simply crossing the border to the USA, and returning to Canada to extend their visitor status.
Under the immigration regulations, an individual can be allowed into the country for up to six months provided that the intention is temporary. Anyone crossing the border is usually asked a few simple questions by the immigra- tion officer and, perhaps without even having a passport stamped, is allowed to enter Canada. Unless indicated otherwise, the individual can assume that a six-month allowance for visitor status has been granted.
The confusion arises because there is no corresponding rule in the regulations, which states how long a person must stay outside of Canada before returning. It is a question of intention on each occasion that one comes to the border. If the immigration officer feels that the person has spent more time in Canada than outside of Canada in the previous year prior to the actual date of questioning, then the officer can refuse entry based on the intention being permanent.
Many people assume that if they simply leave and return, they will be allowed entry without any further questions. In fact, it is up to the immigration officer to decide whether the intention is permanent or not. In the case above, the individuals were living as permanent residents under the guise of being visitors. Clearly this is an untenable situation for immigration, since living in Canada permanently requires a permanent residence application to be approved, which could take up to two years or more.
It is up to the individual coming into Canada to keep careful records of the entries and exits from Canada. Given that stamping of passports is sometimes sporadic, I recommend to clients to utilize an ATM machine before crossing the border, and then using one after crossing the border to indicate the time and dates of entry. The same should be repeated when returning to the United States. This allows one to keep an accurate record of one’s stay in Canada. Thus, if questioned by the officers as to when the previous visit had been made, proof would exist. Although one may come back and forth frequently, one should be ready to prove to the immigration officer that one’s permanent residence is outside of Canada and not within. To that end, it is important to retain a permanent address outside of Canada and to ensure that one has all of the evidence showing connection to the country of residency, such as a home deed, utility bills, driver’s license, income tax statements, and bank statements so that successful entry into Canada is the result.