BlogInformation Overload: Navigating the Official Government Immigration Website

18 October 2021

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We live in a world where almost any information is right at our fingertips. With a click of a few buttons on the internet we can learn about any subject matter that interests us. Despite these modern conveniences, the ease with which we can access information comes at a cost: information is so readily accessible that we aren’t sure what information is real and reliable and what isn’t. When it comes to Canadian immigration law, readers of the official government immigration website should take a cautious approach when reviewing the information that is made available.

The Canadian immigration website is polished and contains lots of information about virtually any immigration subject matter, whether you are thinking about immigrating to Canada or interested in attending a Canadian university. While this information is tremendously helpful, there are at least three things to watch out for when reviewing the official immigration website.

First and foremost, readers of the immigration website should understand that it exists to provide general information to the public about Canada’s immigration programs, which all have unique eligibility requirements. Readers should know that the information on the website is prepared for consumption by the masses and individual applicants should be careful about how to apply that information to their own circumstances.

Secondly, the immigration website should be read with a critical eye because it is not often clear whether something is a rule or simply guidance.

Consider, for example, the situation of somebody who is interested in applying for a further work permit from inside Canada. If you were to look on the website today to find out about the process, it would say that you should apply for your new permit at least 30 days before your current permit expires. But is that a rule or just guidance?

Many clients who have previously consulted with me believed that the 30 days requirement is a hard and fast rule and that they might not be approved for a new permit if they apply with less than 30 days before their current permit expires. In reality, there is nothing in our immigration laws that mandate clients to apply 30 or more days before the expiry of their current permit. Rather, our immigration laws simply state that clients are eligible to apply for an extension of their permits so long as the one they already have has not yet expired, even if you are applying at the very last minute.

That brings me to my third and final point: the immigration website represents an interpretation of immigration law and may not accurately represent what the law itself says. This is the point that I often have the most trouble convincing my clients of. Many clients believe that the information provided on the immigration website must be correct because it comes from an official source. However, you do not need to take my word for it. If you look closely at the immigration website, you will find that there are often disclaimers stating that the information on their website does not constitute legal advice and there may be discrepancies between what is stated on the website compared to the law.

For a real-world example of this, I can refer you to the 2016 court case of Zhang.

Ms. Zhang travelled to Canada as a visitor in August 2014 and was initially allowed to remain for six months until February 2015. In January 2015 she applied to extend her stay in Canada as a visitor, and her application was ultimately approved to extend her stay until August 2015.

Also in January 2015, Ms. Zhang began to study a 14-week (3.5 months) English as a Second Language (ESL) course, which she finished only in May 2015.

Unfortunately for Ms. Zhang, an immigration officer later found that she had engaged in illegal studies between January and May 2015. The officer cited a law found in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) requiring visitors like Ms. Zhang to complete their studies within the time they were initially allowed to stay in Canada. In this case, since Ms. Zhang was only initially allowed to stay in Canada until February 2015, she needed to complete her ESL studies by then.

While in Federal Court, Ms. Zhang unsuccessfully argued that her studies were not illegal based upon an interpretation of law found on the Canadian immigration website, which said:

“You can study in Canada without a study permit if: the duration of your course of program of study is six months or less and you will complete your course or studies within the time you are allowed to stay in Canada.

Based on this wording, Ms. Zhang argued that her studies were legal so long as she completed her ESL studies by August 2015 because she was legally allowed to stay in Canada until then.

When there is a discrepancy between what the website says and what the law says, the law must prevail. In the Judge’s own words:

“I cannot accept Ms. Zhang’s contention regarding the interpretation of paragraph 188(1)(c) of the IRPR. Indeed the Officer’s conclusions cannot be based upon information found on websites. He or she is required to interpret the Act and the IRPR.”

Despite these limitations, we encourage everyone with an interest in Canadian immigration to become familiar with the official government immigration website. It is a great starting point for your immigration inquiries. As an immigration lawyer, I truly appreciate it when I consult with clients who have engaged in some self-studies and are able to ask pointed questions and share their specific concerns with me as it relates to their fact patterns. As you can see, however, there are many potential pitfalls to placing too much reliance on the immigration website, which is not designed to help you understand how the laws would apply in your specific circumstances, and is not intended to substitute professional legal advice.

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Sas and Ing Immigration Law Centre LLP

A partnership between Catherine Sas Law Corporation and Victor Ing Law Corporation

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