If You Are Away from Canada for Too Long You Could Lose Your Permanent Residence

Please note the important words in bold text.

Individuals who immigrate to Canada, but who are not yet citizens (Permanent Residents) do not have an unlimited right to stay in this country.

While citizenship can only be taken away under unusual circumstances, Permanent Resident Status can be revoked for a variety of reasons. For example, you can lose your permanent residence if you do not spend enough time in Canada (this is called the “residency requirement”).

To be clear, you should not panic if you take an annual, two-week summer vacation. In order to maintain Canadian permanent residence you simply have to have been in Canada for 730 days within the last five years. This rule can be a challenge for Canadian Permanent Residents who strive to split their time between Canada and another country. It can also be a problem for individuals compelled to travel to another country for a long-term family emergency.

Perhaps you know of a friend who broke the residency requirement in the past and has not yet lost their status. Do not rely on such stories! As immigration lawyers, we regularly learn about individuals who had their permanent residence status taken away because they did not spend sufficient time in Canada. These cases are particularly unfortunate for individuals who are outside of Canada when the government finds out about their failure to meet the residency requirement, as they may never be able to re-enter the country.

There are exceptions to the residency requirement. Days spent abroad may not count against the residency requirement if you or your spouse (or parents, if you are a minor) were working for a Canadian company or the Canadian government. You are also exempt if the spouse/parent you are traveling with is a Canadian Citizen.

Furthermore, if you have broken the residency requirement, you may be able to make a legal defense and keep your permanent residence. This does not mean it is safe to break the residency requirement, however. Canada views permanent residence as a privilege, not a right. As such, even individuals who felt they had no choice but to stay abroad (to complete schooling or stay with a family member), will often lose their permanent residence.

A final important point here is the relationship between Permanent Resident Status and Permanent Resident Cards. Clients often call us fearing they have lost their Permanent Residence Status, when all they mean is that their card has expired. Permanent Resident Cards are an ID-document for entering Canada. If yours is expired, you will need to renew it if you want to travel. But don’t panic! You are (probably) still a permanent resident!

The reason it is important to discuss Permanent Resident Cards in this article, however, is that when you apply for a new card, Canadian officials will check whether you still qualify for Permanent Residence Status. If you have not spent 730 days in Canada in the last five years, it is a bad idea to apply for a new card. Wait for enough time to pass until you can say you have spent 730 days of the last five years in Canada; then you can consider applying.

Decisions about when to renew a permanent resident card, or how a permanent-resident family member stuck abroad without a card can return to Canada need to be made with care. If you are in a difficult situation related to those described in this article, please seek legal advice.

***This is legal information and not legal advice. If you need further information or need legal advice, please call our Intake Line at 416-441-1764 ext. 1 or complete our online Intake Form.***