#007 :: Still waiting… (28/04/2018)

28/04/2018 – a year since we submitted our documents. Nothing changed for a while except some flickers on our medical status, as if someone had reviewed them, and maybe had even extended them because they expired on 20/04/2018 and we had not been asked to redo it.

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#006 :: Phase 4 (28/04/2017 – still in progress)

The waiting game is still going on. We didn’t get our visas yet, and more than 8 months have passed since we submitted the application. However, we didn’t get refused and that was a good sign, but the waiting is getting difficult when you don’t have a deadline in your sight. Let’s start the story from the beginning.

001 - Confirmation of Online Application Transmission

As soon as we submitted our application, we have received a confirmation e-mail. We were curious about the processing time, and CIC website didn’t help at all. We searched the Internet to find some kind of estimation, and in our case, it was 108 days (which should come around 14/08/2017). My wife and I agreed to leave as soon as we get our visas, which should be by the end of August. The prices of airplane tickets usually significantly drop after the 1st of September (after the summer season), thus we chose the month of September for our departure. We were so happy and excited, I started applying for jobs on various Internet sites and we started planning our last summer vacation in Europe.

My daughter

I have a 7-year-old daughter from my previous (the first) marriage, Nadja. She lives with her mother (my ex-wife). When we decided to immigrate to Canada, I have spoken to my ex-wife, and she didn’t give her consent to put our daughter in the application. Our lawyers suggested that we should try to convince her to allow the child to go with us, just to activate PR visa, and she could return home immediately (that way she could easily gain Canadian citizenship without even having to live in Canada, which would bring her many opportunities later: lower college fees in Canada, no visas when she comes to visit us, etc.), but – no progress. So, the application contains just the three of us: me, my wife, and our son.

The plan

In June, our application changed status to “Medical passed”. We made plans to go to Greece in July, celebrate our son’s first birthday (and my 37th, 5 days later) in August, and start packing in September. That was the plan, in short. And we added details to it on daily basis. We should sell our car, sell our home library, eventually sell the apartment… And also, buy suitcases, buy plane tickets, book a place to stay in Toronto…

The plan after we arrive in Toronto is to rent some Airbnb apartment for a few days until we choose a furnished apartment to rent for a month or two (and even three, if necessary) until I get employed. And after I land a job, we will move as close to my job as possible, to avoid long commuting and spend more time together. My wife will not search a job for a few months until we find kindergarten and sort things out.

Additional documents

We spent a beautiful summer vacation in Greece in July. On 18/07/2017 (two days prior to our departure home), we received 2 e-mails from CIC. The Internet connection was terrible (actually, we were lucky to even have any), and we struggled to download the PDF attachments, trembling over them: we knew that it was too early to approve our application, so it could only be a refusal or some request for additional documents. Luckily, they were both request letters. The first e-mail requested for my Schedule A Background Declaration form (IMM 5669) within 7 days, and the second informed us that my daughter was added to the application by CIC (with status NON-ACCOMPANYING DEPENDENT), and requested us to provide following documents (I had to hide some sensitive information) :

Procedural Fairness

It was pure luck (and good timing) my daughter was with us on the vacation at the time (and her passport also, which was required for the medical examination), so we were able to schedule and finish the medical as soon as we returned from Greece. Otherwise, I doubt her mother would have allowed us to do this (actually, she was very pissed off when she heard from our daughter that I took her to some kind of medical examination).

And on 26/07/2017 another request e-mail came from CIC. This time they required my “Details of Military Service” (complete military history; including reserve service, volunteer service, participation in militias and/or paramilitary groups). Since I chose to serve civilian service, I didn’t have much to put into this form.

What next?

Our application changed status to “Medical passed” once again, on 28/07/2017. After that, “Background check status” changed to “IP1” on 03/08/2017. We could track (and predict, to some extent) our application changes, using the Internet site My Immigration Tracker. We didn’t think that these requests for additional documents would delay our application too much, we stuck to our plans and purchased one-way plane tickets for 27/09/2017. We also sold our car on 20/09/2017 and did a lot of preparation from our ToDo list by then (closed unnecessary bank accounts, bought suitcases, sold our laundry dryer, converted our savings into Canadian dollars…). When we realized that we would not be able to leave because we still didn’t get our visas, I canceled the flight and got a partial refund. I didn’t reschedule it because we didn’t have any info on our visa status.

On 18/10/2017 we submitted an enquiry to CIC:
Dear Sir/Madam,
I have applied for permanent residence in Canada via Express Entry on April 28, 2017. I have submitted all required documents and complied with your requests in prescribed time and manner. It has been almost six months since we have applied and I still have no information on the status of my application. Please be so kind and inform me what is happening with my application and if you require any additional document or information, feel free to contact me.
Thank you.

This is the reply we got by e-mail on 20/10/2017 :
Hello,
Your file is currently under review and requires additional verifications.  As a result, the assessment period will be outside of our posted processing times. Unfortunately, at this time we are not able to determine when your application will be finalized, but our office will contact you as soon as all verifications are completed, or if any additional information or documents are required.
Your patience is very much appreciated.
Regards

As the 6-month milestone passed by on 28/10/2017, we decided to request official GCMS/ATIP notes through my friend in Toronto. He submitted a request on 14/11/2017 and on 13/12/2017 we received this e-mail:

ATIP

Conclusion: we are in the dark! We don’t know the status of our application (and we cannot get the consent of the other biological parent), we don’t know when it is going to be completed, we can only wait and hope for the best! The next milestone is 20/04/2018, a year from our medicals. If we don’t get the visas by then, we will have to do the medical examination (and pay for it) again.

Financial breakdown of Phase 4 (not complete)

In this phase we have spent:
~ CAD. $161 for medical exam (110€ for the child)
~ CAD. $55 for various documents and translations
~ TOTAL: CAD. $216

#005 :: Phase 3 (12/04/2017 – 28/04/2017)

When you receive the ITA, you have 90 days (it has changed recently, the deadline was 60 days) to collect and submit all the documents needed, according to the checklist:

For the principal applicant (my wife):
– Passports/Travel Documents
– Mariage License/Certificate
– Proof of medical exam
– Education (diplomas/degrees)
– Employment Records (for each job stated in the Express Entry profile in separate file)
– Police Certificates
– Proof of Means of Financial Support
– Digital photo
– Schedule A (form eIMM5669E)

For the spouse (me):
– Passports/Travel Documents
– Proof of medical exam
– Education (diplomas degrees)
– Employment Records (for each job stated in the Express Entry profile in separate file)
– Police Certificates
– Digital photo
– Military Records

For our son:
– Passports/Travel Documents
– Digital photo
– Proof of medical exam
– Birth Registration/Certificate

Fees:
– Permanent Resident Application Fee – CAD $550
– Permanent Resident Application Fee for Spouse – CAD $550
– Right Of Permanent Residence Fee (RPRF) – CAD $490
– RPRF for Spouse – CAD $490
– Permanent Resident Application Fee for Child – CAD $150

As I already suggested in one of my previous posts, we prepared a lot of documents upfront, during the previous phase (birth and marriage certificates, employment records, digital photos, list of travels in the past 10 years and the reasons for it, translations of all the documents that were issued in Serbian language, scans of our passports and scans of everything). When we received the first ITA (the one we were not eligible for), we immediately submitted a request for the Police Certificate (we were told that this document could take up to a month to get – in our case, it took only 2 weeks). By the time we got our second ITA, we have already obtained it and sent it to the official (judicial) translator. When the second ITA arrived, we just needed to schedule the medical exam, to take listings from all the banks (we had our money dispersed in several banks) and to translate them, and lastly, to take new photos (the dimensions of the old ones were wrong). We managed to do it in 2 weeks (and it could be even faster) and our lawyers submitted everything on 28/04/2017. The waiting game can officially start! 😉

Financial breakdown of Phase 3

In this phase we have spent:
~ CAD. $708 for medical exams (2 x 190€ for adults + 110€ for the child = 490€)
~ CAD. $2,300 for fees (2 x $1,040 for adults + $150 for the child + exchange difference)
~ CAD. $343 for various documents, listings, and translations
~ TOTAL: CAD. $3,351

 

 

 

 

#004 :: Phase 2 (April 2016 – April 2017)

Express Entry profile

As I have written in my previous post, my wife got her IELTS grades and diploma assessments ready by 14/03/2016. She was ready to create an Express Entry profile on the CIC website. We agreed to wait for my IELTS grades before the decision who was going to be the principal applicant. When they arrived, the choice was obvious:

CRS scores

We didn’t wait for my diploma assessment (that could have been added afterwards), and we created the profile on 20/04/2016 with 424 CRS points. Then we only needed to be patient and hope that the number of required points would drop because the minimum was 450 CRS points so far:

Express Entry draws

In June we added my diploma assessment to the profile, but our 432 points were not even close to what we needed to get the Invitation to Apply (ITA). Since we made our Express Entry profile, the hurdle didn’t come below 480 (and went up above 500 for a couple of times). We started thinking about ways of getting more points! There were only 2 solutions to our problem: LMIA and PNP. Each option was awarding 600 additional CRS points (it has changed recently, LMIA brings only 200 CRS points now).

The lawyers

On 5th of August, we got our beautiful son. He was born 2 months earlier than he was supposed to, and we had a lot of worries about his well-being. We didn’t have much time to dedicate to our immigration plans. Friends of our friends immigrated to Canada recently and we connected with them to ask about their experiences. They recommended their lawyers to us, the well-known agency from Belgrade. The lawyers charge 20€ (around CAD. $30) for an hour of consultancy, and we scheduled an appointment with them for 20/10/2016.

The consultancy meeting with the lawyers was a very pleasant experience! They have driven our fears away and gave us a lot of hope for getting our PR visas. We even got a few useful tips from them we couldn’t find anywhere online and they instantly gained our trust. The meeting took nearly 2 hours and they still charged us only for one. They said that the fee was symbolical, to distinct serious applicants from those “asking around” without a clear plan or desire to immigrate. They explained to us that LMIA doesn’t work (it is very expensive and complicated for the employer), and PNP Ontario is about to start soon.

After a few days of consideration, we decided to hire them, because:
– they can guide us through the application for PNP Ontario (we really didn’t have enough time to learn about the process, and the information online were very vague)
– they will ensure our application for PR visa is error-free and complete (we couldn’t afford to submit an incorrect application and return to the beginning of the process)
– they are reliable because we already knew some people successfully immigrating using their services, and they were satisfied
– they are well-informed about upcoming changes of the immigration process and the political climate in Canada (they are Canadian citizens and their agency is registered in Canada)
– we can afford this expenditure (their fee) in order to get to Canada faster (and earn the money we invested into this project)

Useful tip #1: The lawyers advised us to get FBI report that we were not charged or prosecuted during our stay in the USA (my wife and I were both visiting the states in the past). This is something that we couldn’t read anywhere and if CIC asks for that document, we wouldn’t have enough time to get it, so the advice was to order it immediately (it takes a while to get it, and it is not costly). We sent our fingerprints on 17/11/2016 and FBI charged us for the service on 23/01/2017. We got our reports by mail in February 2017. Later we learnt that this only applies if you have spent more than 6 months in the USA in the past 10 years.

Useful tip #2: In order to get better IELTS marks for speaking part, you can go and take the exam in Budapest instead of taking it in Belgrade. They have lower criteria in Budapest. It was a useless tip for us because we had already taken our exams, but useful for others.

The nerve-wrecking ITA (Invitation to Apply)

Since we decided to immigrate to Toronto, because we have friends there, we were told by our lawyers that the Ontario PNP would be open on 01/11/2016. We gathered necessary documents (including Support Letter, Proof of Employment and Proof of Citizenship of our friend from Toronto) by 20/11/2016, but the PNP was postponed for the next year. Trump election affected the Canada immigration process and everything was on hold until the Ministry of Immigration and Citizenship decided what to do.

The New Year brought good news: CIC decided to increase the number of immigrants for the 2017 and the next draws brought steadily decline of needed CRS points, every 2 weeks: 

Draw No. Draw date No. of CRS points needed No. of invitations issued
51 Wednesday, 04/01/2017 468 2.902
52 Wednesday, 11/01/2017 459 3.334
53 Wednesday, 25/01/2017 453 3.508
54 Wednesday, 08/02/2017 447 3.644
55 Wednesday, 22/02/2017 441 3.611

We were so happy and could predict the next 2 draws, because the hurdle was steadily declined by 6 points with each draw: on 08/03/2017 it should come down to 435 points, and on 22/03/2017 it should finally come to 429, below our CRS score of 432! We would get our long expected ITA. Therefore, we decided not to pursue Ontario PNP qualification.

And then, something unexpected happened: the next draw took place on Wednesday, 01/03/2017 (a week earlier!) and points dropped to 434 (by 7, not by 6 as expected). We were so close! The next draw would bring us ITA! Then again, we were confused: should we wait for 2 weeks before the next draw, or this was an additional draw and everything continues as planned? We could only wait and see…

The next Wednesday (08/03/2017), nothing happened. OK, we thought, the next draw would be 2 weeks after the unexpected. We were eagerly expecting 15/03. That day we refreshed the CIC page every 5 minutes, but nothing happened. OK, the next date in our prediction was 22/03. Maybe they made one draw a week earlier because of some holidays and then they get back on regular rhythm? This time we refreshed the page every 2 minutes. Unfortunately, 22/03/2017 didn’t bring us good news. No draw! We were desperate! And more bad news: next draw took place on Friday, 24/03/2017. But the limit went up this time: 441 points again! We didn’t know what to think and what to do. We could only wait and hope for the best.

On 03/04 we lost 5 CRS points because my wife celebrated her birthday. Now we had 427. And two days later, new shock: we received ITA. The draw on 05/04 was for 431 points. Wait a minute! We just lost 5 points, we were not eligible for this. What should we do, use the opportunity or decline the invitation? We consulted our lawyers. They suggested us to decline because the system was slow on updating our points, and if they discovered that we didn’t have enough points during the application processing, they could refuse to give us visa and even ban us from applying again. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long: next Wednesday another early draw happened (on 12/04/2017), and this time for 423 points. We finally got our ITA.

Financial breakdown of Phase 2

In this phase we have spent:
~ CAD. $29 lawyer consultancy
~ CAD. $48 for dactyloscopy fee and postal services
~ CAD. $48 FBI report fee
~ CAD. $178 various documents (including passport for our newborn)
~ TOTAL: CAD. $303

#003 :: Phase 1 (September 2015 – April 2016)

My Diploma

My first task was to finish my studies. I have mentioned in my first post that I had had only one exam left, and it was Object-oriented Programming (C++). The website of my College published the last term for examination for this year: 28/09/2015. I signed up immediately and started learning because I had only 2 weeks left until the exam. Luckily, I didn’t need too much time to prepare, I did it on multiple occasions earlier.

The first hurdle was skipped, I managed to pass the exam (with minimal score). The next task was to find a mentor for the final thesis (capstone project, also known as the graduation work), and I chose to apply with the same professor who scored my last exam, Object-oriented Programming. He accepted the role of mentor and gave me a topic: make a video-game in C++. It took me a while, although I set myself a deadline for this: by the end of current year. The final project was finished by 15th of February and the thesis was written by March 2nd. This is how it looks like: Final thesis (in Serbian language).

After some suggestions and alterations, it was finally printed on 20th of March and the public defense of graduation thesis was scheduled for 14th of April. This was the date I finally graduated! (A little digression: I started my studies in 1999 on The Faculty of Electrical Engineering and in 2004 I decided to transfer my passed exams on The School of Electrical and Computer Engineering of Applied Studies (AKA: IT College) because I was struggling to meet the condition for admittance in the third year of studies with the former. It took me 2 years to finish all the courseware left after the transfer of my exams and I had only one exam left by the end of 2006)

The next step was to evaluate my diploma according to Canadian standards: Educational Credential Assessment. We have chosen World Education Services and I submitted my documents. The fee was around CAD. $235 (CAD. $200 for evaluation + 13% HST + CAD. $7 standard delivery + exchange difference), plus the expenses of postal services. My diploma was assessed as Canadian equivalency of Bachelor’s degree (three years) on June 16th, 2016. Then we added my WES Credential of Assesment to our Express Entry profile (but that is already the second phase of our application, which will be described in my next post).

My wife’s Diploma

My wife also didn’t have an easy task of gathering her documents. She graduated on Japanese language and literature in 2001 (Faculty of philology) and finished postgraduate studies on Management of human resources in 2010 (Faculty of organizational studies). The first faculty is famous by notorious employees in student services, and their work time is 2 hours per day, while the second never issued her the diploma (no student of that generation received a diploma, they started the process in 2016). After a lot of troubles and nerve-wracking events, she managed to get both her diplomas at the beginning of February 2016. She sent copies of them along with the translations in English on February 10th and they were both evaluated by WES on March 14th, 2016. Now, she officially holds Canadian equivalency of Master’s degree, as far as immigration services are concerned.

IELTS

One of the first steps in preparing the application for Canadian PR Visa is to pass the IELTS exam. You have to plan it upfront, because the same exam is used for immigration to UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and free terms are not easy to find. On 13th November 2015, my wife booked a term for 23rd January 2016. More than enough time to prepare for it. (Useful tip: you can book the exam in other cities, too. Some cities have lower criteria for the speaking part, for example: Budapest has lower criterion than Belgrade)

IELTS marks carry the most weight of Express Entry application, since they deliver possible 128 CRS points out of maximal 600. And additional 50 bonus points, in combination with relevant work experience. It is the most important factor of the application because other factors cannot give you more points than that you already have (level of education, work experience, and especially not age)! My wife is very familiar with English language (she holds Proficiency certificate issued by Cambridge) and she didn’t put much effort in preparation for good marks: L8, R9, W7.5, S8.5 (125 CRS points in total).

After I completed my initial work on my final thesis (graduation work), I could plan my preparation for IELTS. On February 1st I booked a term for March 19th. On 29th of March, I received a letter with details how to log in and check my results. And on April the 1st I could see my marks: L8, R7, W6.5, S7 (that is 109 CRS points out of 128).

Financial breakdown of Phase 1

In this phase we have spent:
~ CAD. $470 for WES assessment of our diplomas (2 x $235)
~ CAD. $400 for diplomas, photocopies, translations and postal services
~ CAD. $520 for IELTS exam (2 x $260)
~ TOTAL: CAD. $1,390

 

 

#002 :: The first steps – The research and the plan

Once you make your decision, you have to work on a plan and to stick to it (I have seen many people who were great planners, but they have never sustained till the end). The first step was to check if we were eligible to immigrate to Canada. This is the test: http://onlineservices-servicesenligne.cic.gc.ca/eapp/eapp.do

After countless nights of reading through CIC instructions (http://www.cic.gc.ca), which can be somewhat ambiguous and vague, we needed to address several different online forums and sites for clarification (my recommendation: https://moving2canada.com and https://www.canadavisa.com/canada-immigration-discussion-board). Finally, we came to several conclusions:

  • The process of immigration has changed since 01/01/2015 and everything is done online now (you don’t send any paper anywhere, you just scan and upload your documents), so the waiting time should be shorter than before
  • There are multiple entry channels (streams) and every immigrant has to decide for themselves which stream suits them the best. We have chosen the FSWC stream (Federal Skilled Worker Class)

We could break down the process of immigrating into several phases and sub-steps:

  1. phase: gather the documents needed for making an Express Entry profile
    – take the language test (IELTS/CELPIP/TEF)
    – assess the level of education with an authorized organization (e.g. WES)
  2. phase: make the Express Entry profile and wait for the ITA (Invitation To Apply) – while waiting, gather all the other documents you can at this stage (birth certificates,  translations in English of all the relevant documents, the proof of work experience, prepare scans of your passports and have all the documents scanned), and provide the funds needed to apply (it depends on the size of the family that immigrates).
  3. phase: when you receive the ITA, schedule your medical examination, get your proof of funds and the rest of the documents needed (police record, etc.), submit all the necessary documents and the proof of funds, pay the fees and wait for the processing to be done.
  4. phase: when the processing of the application is over, you will get the visa in your passport, and you can book your plane tickets, make arrangements for an accommodation and start packing now.
  5. phase: touchdown and your new life can begin!

You cannot really plan much ahead because each next phase can begin only after the previous has been completed (like a waterfall). But you must never lose your ultimate goal from your sight and never lose hope, even if some phase is taking much longer than you anticipated – in the end, a couple of months are nothing compared to the rest of your new life!

#001 :: The decision to immigrate to Canada

A bit about me

My name is Ivica /ee-vee-tsa/ and the main purpose of this blog is to sum up my thoughts, to save them from oblivion. Also, I would like it to be a place where people can get informed what steps should be taken if they want to follow our path and avoid pitfalls.

I was born in Smederevo, Serbia (ex-Yugoslavia), 37 years ago. When I was 8 years old, my uncle immigrated to Australia, and since my childhood, I was determined to leave the country, too. In 2008 I started thinking about leaving and I chose Canada as my final destination because I already knew several people living in Toronto and it was a very popular country to immigrate to.

Then I met my first wife, we got our daughter and I abandoned my plans to leave the country. Moreover, I didn’t get my degree yet (I gave up on studying at some point, with only 1 exam left) and I thought that my chances in Canada would be much lower without it.

The first idea

I got divorced in 2013 and started living alone. In August 2014 my sister asked around about summer jobs on Malta, and I started digging information on the Internet. One subject led to another, somehow I ended up reading about working on cruisers. I had several friends working on cruisers and I never pictured myself in that position, but this time – it seemed like a great idea! I was primarily interested in 2 roles onboard: photographer and salesman. I applied (with no relevant experience) with many companies and recruitment agencies and I got just 1 interview in September. I did not get the job, but I was promised another interview the next year if I learn another language, so I started learning German.

The second idea

In February 2015 I met my second wife. From the moment we began dating she was aware of my plans to leave the country (in the meantime I gave up the idea of working aboard a cruiser, and I started to think about moving to Germany or Switzerland, to work in IT related industry since I had already begun to learn the German language and I had already worked in IT). We started living together soon and she liked the idea of moving to Germany together. But, the refugee crisis emerged and Germany was overwhelmed with people looking for jobs (drastically lowering the salaries), so we decided to look for an English-speaking country. After careful consideration of Ireland, UK and even Denmark, we finally agreed on Canada. We decided on our final destination in August-September 2015 and started to dig up information about the process and the required documents.