Permanent resident cards

The risks of travelling without a PR card


By Guidy Mamann: It happens quite often. We get a frantic call from a permanent resident of Canada who suddenly has to travel overseas to see a dying relative or who has to pay their final respects to a loved one. The problem is that their PR card has expired and they simply can’t wait 46 days, or more, to have their renewal application processed by the Case Processing Centre in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

CPC Sydney has a procedure where it can expedite these requests and promises to “examine your request and contact you within two business days to inform you whether it is possible to speed up the process”. It insists that a copy of a purchased airline ticket be submitted with the request. Travel itineraries are not sufficient and there is no assurance that the application will be processed urgently, or how long it might take. It simply depends on the circumstances.

Sometimes, this option is just not fast or certain enough.

It is possible for some permanent residents to travel without a PR card and return to Canada, however, not without some risks.

First, here are some basic truths.

Firstly, it is not a legal requirement for a permanent resident to maintain a valid PR card anymore than it is for a Canadian citizen to maintain a valid Canadian passport.

Both documents are evidence of a person’s status in Canada but their absence does not compromise, at all, that status. For example, if my dog Mia, ate my valid Canadian passport, I would still be a Canadian citizen even if I couldn’t produce my passport. Same thing with permanent residents. They are still permanent residents even if they are not in possession of a PR card. No doubt, a PR card is the best evidence of that status.

Secondly, Canadian citizens and permanent residents can leave Canada anytime with or without a passport or PR Card. No law prohibits it. Any problems are associated with returning to Canada.

Thirdly, a permanent resident is required to have a PR card when he/she returns to Canada. However, his/her failure to do so will not constitute an offence under our immigration laws.

Fourthly, if a Canadian permanent resident finds themselves outside of Canada without a PR card they can always apply for a permanent resident travel document at a Canadian visa post outside of Canada.

If for some reason they can’t get one, they may nonetheless be able to return to Canada. No doubt, problems may arise when taking this approach, but it is certainly possible.

Transportation companies are required to ensure that a person travelling to Canada has the appropriate documentation for that entry. If they don’t, the carrier will deny them boarding since our Federal government can hold them responsible for transporting someone who may be denied entry to Canada.

For permanent residents who are from countries whose citizens require a visitor’s visa to come to Canada, (i.e. China, India, Pakistan) they shouldn’t even consider travelling without a PR card unless they are willing to apply abroad for a permanent resident travel document since they will surely be denied boarding on their return trip unless they have proper documentation.

On the other hand, those permanent residents who are from visa-exempt countries (i.e. US, UK, Mexico) might be able to return without a PR card with minimal difficulty.

Although airline representatives are supposed to insist on a PR card if a traveller claims to be a permanent resident of Canada, they seldom ask when they are presented with a passport from a visa-exempt country.

Upon arrival in Canada, the permanent resident travelling without a PR card has the burden of proving his PR status in Canada and will have to do so without the “best” evidence of this status. However, he/she will almost always have other evidence of this status in some form or another. CBSA officials will examine him/her upon arrival here and will undoubtedly check their computer system to confirm the claimed status. They will probably chide the traveller for travelling without their PR card, but no laws will have been broken by the traveller.

Admittedly, this not an ideal situation, but neither is the deeply personal decision occasionally faced by permanent residents with family abroad whose status document expires every five years.

Guidy Mamann practices law in Toronto at Mamann, Sandaluk and is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as an immigration specialist. Reach him confidentially at 416-862-0000 or at .

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