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More Americans eye move to Canada as COVID-19 cases surge in U.S.

More Americans wanting to move to Canada amid COVID-19
As coronavirus cases continue to surge in the U.S., immigration lawyers say they are seeing an up to threefold increase in the number of Americans who want to relocate to Canada. Kristen Robinson reports.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to surge across the United States with more than 3.7 million confirmed cases and a death toll that has surpassed 140,000, more and more Americans are contemplating a move to Canada.

“They’re concerned about the death rate. They’re concerned about the increase in positive cases nationwide,” said Len Saunders, a U.S. immigration lawyer who works out of Blaine, Wash.

“They’re looking to Canada as almost a safe haven.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Frozen immigration systems across the globe keeping thousands apart

With the number of new infections and hospitalizations climbing south of the border, immigration lawyers on both sides say in the last two to four weeks, they’ve seen a definite increase in Americans wanting to move north.

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“These are Americans who either have spouses in Canada or they have fiances or partners, or they have possible claims to Canadian citizenship through a parent,” Saunders told Global News.

Canadian immigration lawyer Mark Belanger told Global News he’s seen a “sizable uptick” in Americans who were in Canada prior to the pandemic, either visiting family or spending time with their partners, who are now seeking permanent resident status or work permits.

B.C. government closing popular Peace Arch Park at Canada-U.S. border
B.C. government closing popular Peace Arch Park at Canada-U.S. border

“Perhaps double or triple the amount of inquiries — serious inquiries on how to go about staying in Canada or even to immigrate to Canada,” said Belanger.

Global News reached out to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada requesting information on the number of U.S. citizens seeking to immigrate since the border was closed in mid-March, and whether the department is prepared for a potential increase, but has not yet received a response.

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Meantime, land border crossings from the U.S. are increasing. From April 6 to April 12, 2020, data provided by the Canada Border Services Agency shows 107,795 travellers entered Canada. During the same period in July, that number rose to 172,842 travellers — a 60-per-cent increase from three months ago, although still an almost 90-per-cent drop from the same time last year.

Cross-border couple ties knot at Peace Arch Park
Cross-border couple ties knot at Peace Arch Park

Both Belanger and Saunders said they believe the border will remain closed to non-essential travel for the rest of the calendar year.

“Even after the border opens, I think this is a trend that’s going to continue indefinitely,” said Saunders.

According to Belanger, it’s much more difficult to obtain work status in Canada if you don’t have any family connections. That may explain why weddings in Peace Arch Park, which can be accessed from both Surrey, B.C., and Blaine, Wash., are becoming more common.

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“Now you see it on a daily basis,” Saunders told Global News. “I’ve basically become a wedding coordinator to many people.”

Read more: Ottawa to revamp immigration application processing ahead of anticipated surge

Tying the knot is a good ticket to a future in Canada for many cross-border couples.

But for those who can’t meet in the middle, Belanger said he is investigating the potential for legally binding video-conference marriages that would be recognized by immigration authorities in both countries.

“This could be the new era of virtual marriages to sponsor your spouse.”