Before this week’s stunning election result, many Americans declared their intentions, perhaps jokingly, that they would flee to Canada if Donald Trump pulled off a win for U.S. president.
As Trump continued to rack up votes late Tuesday and into Wednesday, it appeared that many of them might be serious. The Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada website crashed around 11 p.m. on Tuesday due to what a department spokesperson called “a significant increase in the volume of traffic.” Since then, the department has confirmed that visitors from the U.S. accounted for half of that surge.
Toronto-based immigration lawyer Heather Segal told CBC News on Wednesday that she “absolutely” has had American inquiries about relocating to Canada during the U.S. election campaign.
“It started off like a trickle,” Segal said, noting that the immigration inquiries “progressively increased” in the last few weeks.
It’s not the first time she’s had Americans ask about immigration for political reasons. But the last time it happened — when George Bush was president — people casually inquired about coming to Canada but didn’t follow through.
This time, there’s “a different feel” and an “earnestness,” Segal said, that she didn’t sense before. She estimates she’s recently had one or two paid consultations a week with U.S. citizens.
But immigrating to Canada isn’t as easy as some Americans seem to think it is, said Lee Cohen, an immigration lawyer in Halifax, who has also fielded inquiries.
“Wanting to come does not entitle you to come,” Cohen said. “They’re surprised that they would have to go through the quite rigorous … application process.”
Some American citizens think that because the U.S. and Canada have a close relationship, are both English-speaking and share pop culture, they wouldn’t have to go through the same steps as someone wanting to immigrate from elsewhere in the world, he said.
The “move to Canada” frenzy in recent months was fuelled by some American celebrities, including Girls actress Lena Dunham and Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, who publicly stated their wishes to leave the U.S. should Trump win.
Some Canadians took to social media on Wednesday to send messages of welcome to their disillusioned neighbours south of the border — including Bill Bennett, a member of the legislature in B.C.
In fact, the Canadian Real Estate Association said that as of 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, the number of hits from U.S.-based users on realtor.ca — which lists Canadian properties for sale or rent — had already doubled the “normal” daily number, with almost 25,000 online sessions since midnight.
But some Canadians, including the notoriously outspoken Hockey Night in Canada personality Don Cherry, aren’t making disillusioned Americans feel welcome.
The Canadian outreach to fearful U.S. voters actually started months before the election results started rolling in Tuesday night. In February, Cape Breton radio announcer Rob Calabrese started the Cape Breton if Donald Trump wins website, encouraging Americans to visit, and perhaps even move, to the region.
But on Wednesday, Calabrese told CBC Nova Scotia’s Information Morning that he hadn’t really thought Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would lose and he had started the website as “kind of a joke … a way to shine a light on our kind-of population problem in Cape Breton.”
Some Americans, including Gene Sperling, a former economic advisor to presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, called on their fellow citizens to stop the hysterical move-to-Canada reaction on social media.
For U.S. citizens still wanting to seriously pursue a move, Segal and Cohen say the first step is to see whether they meet Canada’s immigration criteria. Some may be eligible for the government’s express entry system for skilled workers.
But first, they say, come to Canada for a visit and meet with a qualified immigration specialist — and definitely don’t show up at the border declaring an intention to move.
“There’s a lot of homework,” Cohen said. “Really take a breath.”