Unhappy Democrats Must Wait to Get Into Canada
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Disgruntled Democrats seeking a safe Canadian haven after President Bush won Tuesday's election should not pack their bags just yet.
Canadian officials made clear on Wednesday that any U.S. citizens so fed up with Bush that they want to make a fresh start up north would have to stand in line like any other would-be immigrants -- a wait that can take up to a year.
"Let me tell you -- if they're hard-working honest people, there's a process, and let them apply," Immigration Minister Judy Sgro told Reuters.
Asked whether American applicants would get special treatment, she replied: "No, they'll join the crowd like all the other people who want to come to Canada."
There are anywhere from 600,000 to a million Americans living in Canada, which leans more to the left than the United States and has traditionally favored the Democrats over the Republicans.
But statistics show a gradual decline in U.S. citizens coming to work and live in Canada, which has an ailing health care system and relatively high levels of personal taxation.
Government officials, real estate brokers and Democrat activists said that while some Americans might talk about moving to Canada rather than living with a new Bush administration, they did not expect a mass influx.
"It's one thing to say 'I'm leaving for Canada' and quite another to actually find a job here and wonder about where you're going to live and where the children are going to go to school," said one official.
Roger King of the Toronto-based Democrats Abroad group said he had heard nothing about a possible exodus of party members.
"I imagine most committed Democrats will want to stay in the United States and continue being politically active there," he said.
Americans seeking to immigrate can apply to become permanent citizens of Canada, a process that often takes a year. Becoming a full citizen takes a further three years.
The other main way to move north on a long-term basis is to find a job, which in all cases requires a work permit. This takes from four to six months to come through.
Statistics show the number of U.S. workers entering Canada dropped to 15,789 in 2002 from 21,627 in 2000. In 1981 some 10,030 Americans gained permanent residency, compared to 5,541 in 2003.
Asked if there had been signs of increased U.S. interest, Sgro said: "Not yet, but we'll see tomorrow."
The Canadian foreign ministry said there had been no increase in hits on the Washington embassy's immigration Web site, while housing brokers doubted they would see a surge in U.S. business.
"Canada's always open and welcoming to Americans who want to relocate here, but we don't think it would be a trend or movement," said Gino Romanese of Royal Lepage Residential Real Estate Services.
Those wishing to move to Canada could always take a risk and claim refugee status -- the path chosen earlier this year by two U.S. deserters who opposed the Iraq war.
"Anybody who enters Canada who claims refugee status will be provided with a work permit...it doesn't matter what country they're from," said an immigration ministry spokeswoman.
Refugee cases are handled by special boards, which can take months to decide whether to admit applicants. The rulings can be appealed and opposition politicians complain some people ordered deported have been in Canada for 10 years or more.