One year later and I finally made it to Montreal. This time, however, I wanted to ensure I had the correct paperwork (i.e. a work visa) so I could house and cat sit without issue.
The working holiday visa I applied for forms part of the International Experience Canada (IEC) program that’s designed to give young people from participating countries the opportunity to live, work and travel in Canada for up to two years. For Australians interested in applying, you must:
- be between 18 and 35 years old
- have a valid passport
- receive an invitation from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to submit an application. Receiving an invitation to apply does not mean you’ve been approved for a working holiday visa.
Australia seems to be one of the only countries without a cap on the number of invitations sent out so I think it’s safe to say almost all Australians who register with the IRCC will get an invitation to apply unless they’re deemed inadmissible to Canada.
The application process
I received an invitation to apply a few days after registering my interest.
We are pleased to invite you to apply for the Working Holiday (IEC) work permit under the International Experience Canada program.
The letter said I had to do one of two things:
- Apply online and do this by 19 January 2023, or
- Decline the invitation.
I was given 20 days to submit all my paperwork and pay the fees associated with the application. It’s $161 CAD regardless of which IEC stream you’re applying for—working holiday, young professionals or international co-op (aka internship)—plus an additional $100 CAD for those who are after an open work permit.
The IEC application form required me to upload several forms of identification, a police check, a traffic history report and my resume. I had to provide my electronic travel authorization (eTA) number; print, fill in and scan a form about my family (things like names, date of birth, citizenship); and declare if I’d been deported from/refused entry to another country.
Have you ever been refused a visa or permit, denied entry to, or ordered to leave Canada or any other country/territory?
This is something that’d been weighing on my mind a lot—how being deported from the United States would affect future visa applications. I wasn’t sure if telling the truth would result in an instant rejection, but, thankfully, there was an option to attach a letter outlining the particulars. I wrote a two-page letter and included a screenshot of the email I received from TrustedHousesitters community manager Angela Laws saying international house sitting is allowed.
This email highlighted how TrustedHousesitters members are misled about visa requirements and don’t realise the huge risk they’re taking when they accept an international house sit. Work visas are required to house sit in the US and UK, but TrustedHousesitters continues to argue “TrustedHousesitters is for tourism” and its “not for arranging house sitting as work”.
IEC applicants must also book an appointment at a biometrics collection services centre to get photographed and fingerprinted. The Canadian Government won’t assess your application until this is done. You’ve got 30 days to give biometrics and they’ll be valid for the next 10 years. Applicants need to be mindful not all cities have a biometrics collection centre(s) and there mightn’t be much flexibility with appointment availability.
Waiting for a decision
It was a nerve-racking few weeks because I really wasn’t sure how the Canadian Government would view being refused entry to the USA. I know I’m not the only person who’s been deported/refused entry, but I’m yet to learn how other countries treat visa violators.
Google didn’t have any answers, but it led me to this Working Holiday Visa Canada IEC 2023: Ultimate Application Guide blogpost. I reached out to the author, Gemma, a Canadian citizen as of 2018, asking her if she knew of anyone with a similar set of circumstances. She said she was aware of a few “relatively similar situations” where someone had been refused entry to another country. Like me, they included a detailed letter explaining what’d happened and ended up being granted an open work permit. Gemma gave another example in which someone was asked to leave Canada because they overstayed whichever visa they had. They were also successful with their working holiday visa application. Her email made me a bit more optimistic, but it ended with: “Again, though, it’s all to the discretion of the actual processing agent so it’s hard to say.”
Two weeks later and I got an email saying my application status had been updated. I logged in and scrolled down to see my work permit had been approved. This was pretty exciting because it meant I was able to house and cat sit in Canada, and I could get a paid job if I wanted to.
Your application to work in Canada has been initially approved by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. The final decision to issue you a work permit and allow you to enter Canada is made after an examination by an officer in Canada. At that time, an officer will assess if you still meet the requirements of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, its Regulations and any other Canadian legislation.
The “requirements” included things like showing proof of:
- funds (minimum of $2,500 CAD) to support yourself
- health insurance to cover the two-year period granted to working holiday visa holders
- a return ticket to Australia.
Good to go
Now it was time to think about when I wanted to go to Canada. My original plan was to head over in September/October, but my employment contact was finishing up at the end of June. I started looking for house sits in the cities I was meant to visit last year. Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, but I was open to pretty much anywhere as long as the person’s place was close to public transport.
It didn’t take long for a house and cat sit in Montreal to come up. It started on 5 July, with an end date of 27 July. I applied and received a message back asking if I could do a quick phone call with the owner. We scheduled a WhatsApp call for my Saturday morning/Friday afternoon Montreal time and I was offered the sit a few minutes into the call. The sit’s start date coincided with the cheapest airfare available for the entire month of July. If it had started on any other day, I would’ve been looking at paying an extra $600–$700 AUD for my ticket. I booked with Air Canada and flew straight from Brisbane to Vancouver.
Arriving in Canada
Even though my work permit had been initially approved, I knew it didn’t guarantee me entry to Canada. It didn’t guarantee anyone entry to Canada. I was fretting about the Canadian immigration officer seeing the stamp at the back of my passport and the possible interrogation that’d follow. And while I still met the requirements (money, insurance, return ticket), you just never know what kind of shitty human you might get at immigration. As Gemma said: “It’s all to the discretion of the actual processing agent.”
My flight touched down at Vancouver International Airport just after 6am. I think it was one of the first flights in that morning because there was no-one around. This was both good and bad. Good because I was in and out of the eTA line within a few minutes. Bad because the immigration office—where people wanting to sort out their visa paperwork go—didn’t open ’til 7am. I was passed around a bit before being told to head toward the “Sortie” (exit) sign and speak to an officer in there.
This particular section of the airport reminded me a lot of the secondary screening facility at LAX. It was quiet and seemed a lot more serious than the area where most passengers pass through. I kept thinking back to that night at LAX, but I was trying to remain positive. I went up to the only officer on duty and said I was here to activate my work permit. I was expecting a whole lot of questions, but all the officer wanted was my passport. He said to take a seat and wait for my name to be called. I didn’t know what the next steps would entail, but my work permit was printed within 10 minutes. It’s valid for two years from 5 July 2023 and comes with three conditions:
- The work permit is not valid for employment in businesses related to the sex trade.
- I must leave Canada by 4 July 2025.
- Unless authorised, I am not allowed to attend “any educational institution” or take “any academic professional or vocational training course”.
The only other thing the officer said to me was I’d need the work permit details to apply for a Social Insurance Number (SIN). A SIN is required before I can start working in Canada, and, apparently, it gives me access to certain government benefits.
My immigration experience in Canada was totally different to what happened in the United States. Those entering Canada on an eTA (i.e. most visitors) don’t have to provide an address for where they’re staying and the only immigration official they deal with is the one they hand their slip to in what seems to be a very casual interaction. No-one asks how long you’re staying for or where else you’re visiting on your trip. I find it hard to believe house sitting would ever come up because there is no conversation to be had as you enter and exit passport control. Remember, though, you always need to read up on what is and isn’t allowed on the type of visa you’ve got because it’s not just the United States ruining house sitters’ travel plans. An American TrustedHousesitters member was taken in for secondary questioning at a Canadian land border crossing and was told “staying for free [as a house and pet sitter] is still considered work”. They were let off with a warning, but not everyone is as lucky when it comes to international house sitting with the incorrect paperwork.