We now know that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are coming to stay long-term in Canada. We just don’t know how.
Yes, Canada is a constitutional monarchy, and we recognize Queen Elizabeth as our head of state, but the British royals don’t have automatic citizenship here. Prince Harry is not considered a prince of Canada; he will have to apply for residency and then citizenship, just like anyone else would, according to experts.
If the Duke and Duchess of Sussex just wanted to live part-time in Canada, that would be easy enough, said Usha George, director of Ryerson University’s Centre for Immigration and Settlement.
Brits, like Americans, can stay in the country for up to 180 days a year (that’s six months) without a visa. But the couple’s desire to be “financially independent” complicates things, because simple visitors aren’t allowed to work. It will also take them a while before they can apply for citizenship. One of the requirements to maintain permanent residency is spending at least 730 days (two full years) in Canada over the previous five years.
Harry is a British citizen. Meghan is American, and has presumably been applying for British citizenship since their wedding in May 2018. She lived in Canada for seven years while filming the TV show “Suits,” but we don’t know what kind of status she had here — she may have gained citizenship or permanent residency, but was likely still an American citizen living in Canada with a work permit, which would have allowed her to buy a house and access Canadian services.
It’s theoretically possible, but very unlikely, that the immigration minister could grant them citizenship outright, according to Evelyn Ackah, the Calgary-based founder of Ackah Business Immigration Law.
“I’ve never seen that in 20 years of practicing,” she said. “It would be pretty major if that happened.”
Sometimes, citizenship is fast-tracked for people who are already permanent residents of Canada when there’s a specific reason: athletes who want to compete as Canadians in the Olympics, for example. In this case, she said it’s possible that the royal couple’s permanent residency could be fast-tracked, but cutting the line for citizenship seems highly improbable.
Assuming they do play by the rules, the family has a few different options for immigrating to Canada — and many of them involve Meghan, the more formally educated and more experienced half of the couple, sponsoring her husband.
Applying as skilled workers would be difficult
Immigrating under the program that allows access to people with skills needed in the Canadian workforce would be tricky, particularly for Harry. To hire a foreign worker, would-be employers here would have to offer them a job, and would then need to get a Labour Market Impact Assessment that proves no Canadian worker is available to do that job.
“I have serious doubts about Harry working in Canada,” George told HuffPost Canada. “Does he have the skills that are required in the Canadian labour market?”
Applying to be an economic immigrant is highly competitive, according to Harjit Grewal, CEO of Stirling Immigration in Vancouver and an expert in U.K. immigration to Canada.
“Thousands of people apply for it and only the top four or five per cent of applicants actually are successful,” he told HuffPost Canada. Skilled workers who apply to immigrate are scored out of 100, based on how “useful” they’ll be to Canada, and need a minimum score of 67 to be considered. Age, work experience, education and language skills are all counted.
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Harry is 35 and doesn’t have a university education, both of which Grewal says are likely to be considered liabilities. His work experience is varied — he’s trained as a pilot and has worked with charities, including hosting the Invictus Games in Toronto in 2017 — but in this instance, that’s not a good thing.
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What’s valued in immigrant workers is the dedicated experience they can bring to one specific job, according to Ackah.
Meghan could apply as a self-employed worker
Meghan is likely the stronger of the two as a candidate, in both George and Ackah’s estimation. People with experience working in arts and culture can apply for permanent residency via the self-employment path, which is exempt from a Labour Market Impact Assessment.
Meghan has lots of experience working as an actress, which is considered skilled work, as well as a degree from Northwestern University. The main criteria for acceptance as a self-employed worker is that you can prove you’ve been able to support yourself in your field, “and she certainly can,” Ackah said.
Self-employment would also grant her more flexibility than just having a work permit, Ackah explained. A typical “closed” work permit only gives you permission to work for one specific employer.
What about Archie?
Their eight-month-old son will be included in whatever his parents decide to do.
“Because Archie’s a dependent, whoever is the sponsor — once they get residency, automatically he will become a permanent resident as well,” Ackah said.
Harry could join his wife and son through family reunification
If Meghan gains residency through her work, or if she already has either citizenship or permanent residency in Canada via the time she spent in Toronto, Harry can apply to join her through the family reunification track. Like the skilled-worker track, family reunification is one of the three major prongs of Canadian immigration policy. (The third is for refugees fleeing violence or persecution.)
Under the rules of family reunification, Harry could potentially receive a work permit that would allow him to work in Canada while his wife does. George said she sees this as a likely possibility, especially if Meghan returns to acting. Even if she isn’t granted residency but gets a work permit, Harry can apply for a work permit based on hers.
They might opt for a provincial nomination
If Harry and Meghan know where they want to live — it’s looking like British Columbia is a strong possibility — they can reach out to that province.
The provinces each have the ability to select people who score under the federal minimum for skilled workers, Ackah explained. In other words, if you can demonstrate that you want to live and participate in a specific province and have a score that approaches but doesn’t meet the federal point minimum, that province has the option to let you in.
They could enter as immigrant entrepreneurs
As in many instances, wealthy people have more privileges when it comes to immigration.
If Harry and Meghan can prove they have the financial means and are capable of starting a lucrative business in Canada, they could be granted residency on those grounds.
“They definitely have the means” to take this route, Ackah said, but success in this points-based system also depends on “what kind of background they have.” Neither has a history in business. They’d also have to provide details about their business, like how many people they would employ, Grewal explained.
If they were to start a business, they would have to prove they have experience in a related field. If Meghan “wants to get into arts and talent and voiceover work, that’s in line with her background,” Ackah said. “For him, maybe not-for-profits … but it needs to be related to something that you have expertise in, that you can bring to the business, to have it be successful here in Canada.”
Or, even better, enter as immigrant investors through a provincial nomination
As with skilled work, provinces can let people in via the investment stream — and again, the provincial threshold for entry is often lower than the federal one. B.C. has a particularly robust business and investor entrepreneur stream, according to Ackah. Their options will vary depending on how much money they’re willing to invest and where they want to live, as areas on the outskirts of the big cities have lower thresholds to enter.
“Every province has a variation of that, but B.C.’s is one of the most advanced,” Ackah said. “I think that would probably be her best bet.”
… or not
It’s possible they won’t end up seeking citizenship or residency at all and will instead just stay in Canada as visitors. If they aren’t earning money in Canada, they do have the option of staying in the country for up to six months a year.
It may be that when they say they want to be “financially independent,” the couple means they want to stop taking taxpayer money but keep receiving funds from the Duchy of Cornwall, the private estate managed by Prince Charles, which currently accounts for about 95 per cent of their income. If that’s the case, they wouldn’t need to take paying work in Canada — and if they can bypass getting driver’s licences by hiring drivers, for instance, and pay for their own medical care, that’s a very real option.
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If Harry and Meghan do decide to seek status, it could be some time before they get an answer. Canadian immigration “does tend to be quite slow,” Grewal said. Some countries, like the U.K., offer expedited processing of immigration claims for a higher fee, but Canada doesn’t. “In that sense, Canadian immigration is a little antiquated and a little bit out of date,” he said.
Ackah hopes the couple doesn’t use their status to cut the line in front of all the other families trying to immigrate to Canada.
“I think it would be great if they came in and they did everything the way everybody else does,” she said.
“I’m happy to help them, if they want some immigration support. They can call me.”
With files from Zi-Ann Lum