Travel adventures.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Will I get across the border and how long will I be able to stay in Canada?

This morning I woke up at about 3:30 worried about my border crossing.  This is a crazy thing to worry about, because I have crossed the Canadian/US border at least 20 times.  Immigration Canada has always seemed to be very fair and easy to deal with.  I think what worries me the most is my confirmation of employment.  Let me start from the beginning of my Work Visa story, and explain this topic as best as I can...

In order to work in Canada, you need a work permit or residency visa.  As a US Citizen, you can visit Canada for up to six months, as long as you don't try to work there.  I guess they welcome us because our countries get along so well, and I am sure they like us to spend our money in Canada too.  So if I didn't have a job offer already, I would take advantage of my freedom to visit and find a job that way.  Once you find a job however, you have to get a work permit before you can start working.  The easiest way to get a work permit is to hire an immigration lawyer and pay them to do all of the research and write all of the fancy documents for you.  I am lucky enough to have an immigration lawyer helping me.  So, that makes my life a lot easier.  My immigration lawyer gave me a bunch of documents to have various people sign.  All of these documents are addressed to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), and each is intended to help me get my work visa.

The first document is from my new employer to CBSA, and explains why they want me to work in Canada, and why I should be granted a work permit.  Fortunately for me, I qualify for a skilled worker category in NAFTA called "Management Consultant".  So the letter from my Canadian employer explains that I have the experience and qualifications to be a "Management Consultant" and they need my skills.

The other three documents are from my US employers to CBSA.  Each letter is a "confirmation of employment" and briefly explains how long I worked for each company and what I did for each company.  My immigration lawyer asked me for my resume, and then wrote my confirmation of employment letters based upon the job history in my resume.  That appears to be a pretty simple process.  The hard part is finding somebody who will sign the confirmation of employment, and confirm everything you are saying about your work history for each company.

So, I took my three confirmation of employment letters, and started searching for somebody who would sign them for me.  The trick is to find somebody who still works for the company, and will sign the letter.  In my case, my oldest letter dates back to 1999.  I worked for a start-up called Efficient Networks from 1999 to 2003.  During that time, Efficient Networks was acquired by Siemens, and then renamed a couple of times.  So, my first challenge was to explain why Siemens letterhead was used to confirm my employment at a company called "Efficient Networks".  So, I took the liberty of rewording the letter a little, and added a brief explanation about the acquisition during my employment.  FIrst problem solved... I hope!

The next big challenge was finding somebody still working for Siemens who even knew I worked there.  I am sure I could have navigated my way through phone trees and eventually reached somebody in Human Resources who could look me up in a computer.  However, people in HR tend to be very tight lipped when it comes to confirmation of anything beyond, "employee number 1234 worked for our company from 1999-2003".  I have to get somebody to sign a nice letter bragging about all the nice things I did while I worked there.  Not only that, but the confirmation of employment letter needs to be on company letterhead and sign their name at the bottom.  I'm not sure if this company representative needs to be a manager or an "official sounding" person.  But I would guess it couldn't just be some receptionist or janitor.  Despite this daunting challenge, I was able to find a friend of mine who still worked for the company, and was willing to help me get an "official sounding" person to sight the document.  I will not mention her name, in case she might get into trouble, but she did me a tremendous favor, I am very grateful.

The thing that surprised me the most is how difficult it was to get a confirmation letter from my most recent employer.  I still work for the company, and only recently submitted my resignation.  However, everybody I talk to tells me, "I am under strict orders from HR not to sign anything."  My current employer and colleagues will remain nameless in this post to protect the innocent.  I am glad to have worked for such a wonderful company, and I understand why these types of HR policies exist.  So, today I continue searching for the illusive colleague who is willing to sign my confirmation of employment letter.  Wish me luck!

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