Panicked Americans looking to escape a Donald Trump presidency by fleeing to Canada may find the process is not as straightforward as they had hoped.
Immigration experts say the U.S. immigration chatter is overblown and fuelled by fear. They say Americans threaten to move to Canada in the lead-up to every U.S. election, but rarely follow through.
"It's a lot of bombastic rhetoric. I don't think very many Americans will realistically take that step, especially once they find out what's involved," said Toronto-based immigration lawyer Chantal Desloges.
Online interest in the Canadian immigration system appeared to grow on election night. Canada's immigration website crashed on Tuesday evening. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said its website became "temporarily inaccessible to users as a result of significant increase in the volume of traffic." The outage continued into Wednesday morning.
Ms. Desloges said U.S. citizens accessing the website would quickly figure out the path to citizenship is not fast or easy. One option is to come to Canada on a student visa, study at a postsecondary institution and eventually apply for citizenship. Individuals could also come on a work visa, which is not easy to obtain.
"It's not just as simple as getting a job. If you're offered a job that doesn't fit under NAFTA exceptions, then your employer here in Canada would need to prove to the Canadian government why we need someone from outside the country when our unemployment rate is already so high," Ms. Desloges said. While Americans can visit Canada for 180 days without a visa, they are not allowed to work. Ms. Desloges said staying in Canada illegally after that period could lead to deportation and complicate future travel.
Immigration Minister John McCallum's office refused to say whether the government is worried Americans on a visa-free visit will stay past the allowed 180 days.
Claiming refugee status in Canada as an American is not really an option, Ms. Desloges said. Applicants must demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution and be unwilling or unable to return home. Ms. Desloges said those extreme dangers do not exist in the United States, despite Mr. Trump's anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and homophobic rhetoric.
Canadians could sponsor American family members. Cedric Maximilian Shen, a U.S. immigration lawyer and a regulated Canadian immigration consultant, said that while he has seen an increase in inquiries from Americans interested in moving north of the border with Canadian spouses or common-law partners, he has not filed any applications as a result of Mr. Trump's victory.
"Broadly speaking, it's panic. It's emotional. It's anger, fear," Mr. Shen said. More than 7,500 Americans got permanent residency in Canada last year, accounting for 3 per cent of all permanent residents admitted in 2015, according to IRCC data.
Several websites and apps aimed at attracting Americans to Canada were launched before the election. For instance, MapleMatch.com and CanadianGirlfriend.ca connected single Canadians with Americans hoping to leave. The operator of Canadian Girlfriend, Sofi Papamarko, told The Globe and Mail she plans to disable the site as she is not comfortable profiting from fear.
Trumpugees.com was a combination of parody and marketing when Toronto-based DeClute Real Estate Inc. launched it several months ago.
The site depicts a cartoon Mr. Trump, but its message attracted more serious attention on election night. Broker Rochelle DeClute says traffic surged 150 per cent between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m., then tripled again by mid-afternoon.
"It's still climbing," she said. "We have never seen such an increase in traction on any site."
Ms. DeClute expects the real estate market in Toronto to become even busier as a result of the election. Residents of the United Kingdom also looked to Canada after the Brexit vote.