Monday, July 09, 2012

A Learning Experience

The International Experience Canada (IEC) program is a wonderful opportunity to visit an incredible place. Having been through it twice now, once via a brokerage and once on our own, I feel I've earned some valuable gems of experience that are worth sharing. Note: While some tips can be applied to any holiday visa, everything is from the experience of an Irish citizen dealing with the Canada process.

1) Do it.
Just do it. Canada is a truly magnificent land, filled with fantastic people from across the world. Get out, explore, see how life operates outside where ever you grew up. You won't regret it.

2) Do it yourself. Don't use a brokerage.
I know, I know. This sounds like a ridiculous statement based on all the trouble we went through by ourselves versus going through the brokerage. But the application process is actually pretty straightforward, so long as you read and learn from our mistakes and the advice we gleamed from making them. A brokerage is just going to charge you more but the processing time is exactly the same. They get no preferential treatment from the Canadian Immigration offices. In fact, Canadian Immigration prefer to deal with you directly, and will be phasing out all brokerages by 2015.

Worse, brokerages impose restrictions and time-limits on you that the official channel won't. When we traveled first in 2011, we had to be out of Ireland by the end of January, and we had to have flights booked before the'd even begin processing our applications. We also had to book those flights through them, and get our travel insurance through them, all bloated in costs by their commissions. While we didn't have to worry about flights this year, our processing fees and travel insurance were significantly cheaper than before.

3) Have documents ready in advance.
You'll need a Garda Clearance Certificate, available from your local station. If you've had one done in the last few years, they can just reissue that. This is particularly handy for the second year, as it significantly decreases how long it takes for them to issue the new cert. Request it in early November to have for when the application process opens in December. You'll also need recent passport photos (less than 6 months) and a copy of your resumé.

4) Read everything, sign everything, reread everything. 
Once the application process opens, fill out the PDF forms on your computer, print out the documents and sign where requested. This was where we made our mistake. We missed one signature. Pay particular attention to pages or sections that don't apply to you, such as declaring a spouse or children if you don't have any. There is usually a line below these to sign declaring that this section doesn't apply to you. Sign it!

Also, if there is a request for a signature that you don't need to sign, write N/A, or Not Applicable. It didn't affect us, but I've heard of someone who was apparently rejected for not signing the section to declare that he was not married, despite the fact that he was, and had declared as much.

So my advice is to read, sign, and reread. If it asks for a signature, acknowledge that you're seen and read it by either signing it if appropriate, or marking it if not. Finally, give the forms to someone else to read over. They might spot something you missed.

5) Put everything together.
    i) Get all your documents together in an envelope. Completed application forms (including medical request form, if applicable), passport photocopies, passport photos, resumé, Garda Clearance Certificate and any other forms they request. Do not use my list when checking this. They provide a clear list of everything you need in their information packet. Use it, check everything twice.
    ii) Put them in the order they request.
    iii) Do not include any fee payments at this stage! They will reject your application and return everything if you do. They will request payment once your application has been approved.
    iv) Have someone else recheck everything for you. This is the last thing you have control over. Don't make a mistake this late in the game.

6) Post.
Use UPS, Fed-Ex or some other registered postal service. If you're posting from Ireland, the standard registered post provided by An Post is fine. It's just going to London, and will arrive in a day or two. If this is your second year application and you're posting from Canada it's worth paying extra for a 48 hour courier service, just to waste as little time as possible.

7) Look around at travel insurance options and upcoming flights.
Don't book anything just yet. Wait until everything is completed and you have your Letter of Introduction. Your year in Canada starts when you enter the country, and that letter lasts for 12 months from issue anyway, so you have 12 months to authenticate your work permit, and then your 12 months working and enjoying the Canadian life. That's loads of time to route out the appropriate travel insurance and cheap flights.

8) Note the minimum time the processing should take.
The IEC program does not, by policy, reply to inquiries regarding applications before a specified time period, usually the average time it takes for applications to be processed. Mark this date on your calender. If you haven't heard from them after that date, start inquiring by sending a polite email about your status, remembering to include your unique application code. They won't always contact you if there is an issue, as I learned through experience.

I was lucky enough to be applying at the same time as Claire, so when she was accepted but I got nothing, I knew something was amiss. Sure enough, on inquiry, I discovered that they had misplaced my payment confirmation and had halted processing my application, without sending any notification of that action to me. Once I confirmed that my payment had been made within the allowed time-frame, they re-activated my process.

9) Contact them if your medical is done outside Ireland.
For my second year application, I got my medical examination done in Canada. At the bottom of the Instructions For Medical Examinations form, it states that, "The onus is on you to advise this office immediately via email should you arrange to have a medical exam performed outside the U.K. and Ireland." Do not forget to do this.

10) Consider NOT authenticating your work permit immediately.
This is a trick I only learned after I was here for a while, and so did not get to use. In hindsight, it would have actually saved us a lot of the hassle we went through over the last six months, so listen up!

Once you get accepted and make it to Canadian soil, enter the country initially as someone on holiday. Finding work in Canada is not too difficult, but it's not usually instantaneous either. A holiday visa allows you to stay in Canada for 6 months, but you can't work under it. That's okay. You can still look for work and apply for positions. Most people will spend the first few weeks getting a place to live, finding their feet, and just enjoying being here.

By not authenticating your work permit immediately, you don't loose out on the relatively short time you have on your permit. As soon as you find someone that will give you work, you just have to authenticate your work permit. You can do this a number of ways:
    i) Mail the application to Ottawa. This takes much longer than the other options.
    ii) By plane: Fly to the US and back, authenticating at the airport on return.
    iii) By train: Travel to the US and back, authenticating at the train station on return.
    iv) By car: Drive to the US and back, authenticating at the boarder.
I would recommend the car or train. When we flew over in 2011 it took us hours to get through immigration at the airport with the plane-load of other Irish travelers. This year we just popped over the boarder by car and it took mere minutes to process in the office, despite a minor hiccup.

Don't do it by bus. Your additional processing time will hold everyone else up at the boarder, and no-one will appreciate that. On the other hand, immigration by train is done in the Vancouver train station, so you won't be delaying anyone if you choose this option.

11) Enjoy Canada!
You've made it. You have your work permit, you have a job, everything is great. If this is your first year, you can go through most of this again next year, as Irish citizens are permitted two working permits for Canada, each lasting 12 months. If this was your second run through the obstacle course, you better start looking for an employer who will sponsor you if you want to stay in the country beyond the next year.

But for now, you've done it. Relax and enjoy. Well done.


zarkia said...

It's really been quite a journey getting to this point. Do you think you'll get (or maybe you already have) work with the crowd you worked with last year? Any ideas on getting permanent / sponsored visas?

Denis said...

I definitely have work with the same group of childcare centers. They can't wait for me to get back, and I've spent the last 5 months volunteering with them and staying in contact.

Once we pay off all the debts we accrued, our next task is sponsorship. We'll probably start looking into that some time before Christmas.