Called to Canada: Canadian Pastors With Non-Canadian Families

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While a previous post (Called to Canada: Non-Canadian Pastors Serving Canadian Churches) explored more generally the process of entering Canada to accept a call to a Canadian church as a non-Canadian, this one will focus on entering Canada to accept a call to a Canadian church when the pastor is a Canadian citizen but their spouse/family is not. 

Watch the video below for the full conversation and to hear a bit about the individual call stories from these pastors (and apologies in advance about the audio quality, for some reason my microphone was not playing nice). 

Here is a very basic general summary. Remember, none of us are immigration lawyers or consultants, laws can and do change, and this is only the experience of two people. And, while one of the experiences is with a spouse who is a Dutch citizen, some of it may be more directly applicable to coming to Canada from the USA. In other words, make sure you get more specific advice on your precise situation. This is just designed to give you some pointers in the right direction.

1. Spouses get a visitor visa; must apply for Permanent Residency

Spouses enter on a visitor visa and will not be able to work. The visitor visa will be for at least six months. The only way your spouse can stay with you in Canada is through Permanent Residency. It sounds like they might be able to apply for a work permit of their own as well, but it might take just as long to get the work permit as it does to get Permanent Residency (8-10 months to process Permanent Residency). Your children will also get a visitor visa until their citizenship is established. It does sound like you can start this application before moving to Canada, so that might be something to look into.

2. Dual income? Not for a while.

When preparing for your family finances after the move, remember the timeline above. You would probably do best to assume you will be a solo-income family for at least 8-10 months and, potentially longer if a job isn’t lined up already. Sure, your circumstances might work out differently, or maybe you’re ahead of the curve or applied early. But if you don’t know for sure that your circumstances are different, you’re better off assuming you’ll be solo-income for at least this amount of time.

3. Reestablishing Residency and Establishing Citizenship

Just like your children need to have their citizenship established, there are some details to work out for you as a Canadian to reestablish your residency. This includes paperwork. And potentially several unexpected fees for services. 

4. Different States, Different Provinces, Different Rules

When you’re crossing the border, remember that each Province has different laws (health care, etc.) that will impact your family. Additionally, as you are leaving the country it can make a difference which State you are exiting from. This is more specifically about exporting certain things like your vehicle, which, for example, is different if you’re coming to Canada via Michigan than via New York. How your personal belongings are handled might be different for Canadians coming back to Canada and non-Canadians entering Canada on a visitor/work permit...we didn’t get into this specifically in the video, so take this as a cue to do your own research.

5. About Churches (and a note to church leaders reading this)

One of the comments that came up is something that was a surprise (but makes sense when you think about it) about your relationship with both the church you are leaving and the church you are joining. Frankly, the church you’re leaving is probably not feeling much, if any, responsibility for supporting you as you go through all this. And the church that you are moving to in Canada might not yet feel much responsibility for supporting you in this, partly because they might not be familiar with everything you’re going through. Long story short: you have to be able to be your own advocate for the moving/immigration process.

If you’re reading this as a member of the church the pastor is leaving, just know that moving is stressful. Just like they were following God’s call when they came and joined you, remember they are following God’s call to this new place. As they figure out how to leave well, they are doing so not just with the stress of packing up and saying goodbye but also with a whole other added pressure of figuring out an immigration system. Your support and grace to them at this time can be a significant way to bless them in their future ministry.

If you’re reading this as a member of the church the pastor is taking a call to, remember that pastors are sometimes not the best at asking for help. We like to be the helpers! But they are following God’s call to serve in your midst and crossing the border is a huge stressor. It can make a huge difference to at least have a conversation about how it’s going and what types of support your church might offer as they move.

6. Professional Help is Worth It

This keeps coming up as a theme. Whether it’s someone who you pay to manage the whole process or if you just hire someone to have a look at everything you’ve done before you submit it, that second pair of eyes by someone who knows what they’re doing has saved a lot of people a lot of headaches. 

In Closing

We hope this helps a bit as you discern God’s call for you and your family. If you have more experiences to share, don’t hesitate to put them in the comments below! Pastor Church Resources is also maintaining a list of pastors who have gone through cross-border experiences and are willing to chat with you, so don’t hesitate to reach out and ask us to make the connection.

Called to Canada: Canadian Pastors with Non-Canadian Families

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Update: Despite the extra challenges of moving during a pandemic, such as figuring out how to return rental vehicles and unload a truck while not violating Canada's self-isolation policy, our very recent move to Canada went well. The folks at the border were very gracious (once we let them know we had a solid quarantine plan, which we called ahead of time to check in with them), gave my husband a visitor visa fairly quickly, and were fairly laid back in terms of our bringing in goods (not bothering to check about the cat or checking about any food we might be bringing in). We were given the advice to sell our car ahead of time instead of importing it (because of costs of upgrades it would need) and that, we believe, made the process a bit easier, especially as we've moved to a big enough city that we hope to be able to make do with bikes, public transportation, and car-sharing.