Flagpoling Canada Immigration Law and Regulations for Practitioners

Coronavirus and Canada-US border restrictions: CBSA has resumed flagpoling.  However, there is still a chance they do not process your application for validating your COPR (permanent resident landing paper) or receive a work permit, a study permit or renewing your stay in Canada. Consequently, at this stage, beware of potential complications at the port of entry.

Flagpoling LawMiloje is a citizen of Serbia. He recently moved to Canada, but he wants to change his status. Consequently, Miloje is considering flagpoling. However, he is not quite sure what is the legal basis of flagpoling. Miloje approaches an immigration practitioner for advice on the immigration law and regulations behind flagpoling in Canada.

The term flagpoling means you go to a Canada-US land crossing. However, you do not travel to the US. Instead, you inform the US border officer you intend to change your status in Canada. Consequently, they usually deny your entry to the US and send you back to Canada. Upon entering Canada, you apply for the new status. If you are not familiar with flagpoling at all, consider reading the following article first:

Flagpoling could occur for several reasons. For example,

The legal roots of flagpoling for a work permit

We could assume flagpoling became prevalent because of paragraph 190(3)(f) of the IRPR. Under this paragraph:

R190(3) A foreign national is exempt from the requirement to obtain a temporary resident visa if they are seeking to enter and remain in Canada solely

(f) to re-enter Canada following a visit solely to the United States or St. Pierre and Miquelon, if they

(i) held a study permit or a work permit that was issued before they left Canada on such a visit or were authorized to enter and remain in Canada as a temporary resident, and

(ii) return to Canada by the end of the period initially authorized for their stay or any extension to it;

If someone meets the requirements of this paragraph, they become visa-exempt regardless of their nationality. Of course, travelling to St. Pierre and Miquelon is not an option for most people. It is costly, and you may also need to apply for a visa to their country. Instead, people drive to a US-Canada port of entry (POE).  Unfortunately, the US immigration officers deny entry to many of them, but at least they will come back to Canada under the authority of R190(3)(f).

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Why R190(3)(f) is essential?

Under subsection 198(1) of IRPR, you may only apply for a work permit at a port of entry if you are exempt from visa to Canada.  Here is the exact wording of this subsection:

R198 (1) Subject to subsection (2), a foreign national may apply for a work permit when entering Canada if the foreign national is exempt under Division 5 of Part 9 from the requirement to obtain a temporary resident visa.

If you connect the dots, you realize that flagpoling allows every nationality to apply at a US-Canada port of entry.

Can people apply for a study permit by flagpoling?

According to R214, the following foreign nationals may apply for a study permit at a port of entry:

(a) a national or a permanent resident of the United States;

(b) a person who has been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence;

(c) a resident of Greenland; or

(d) a resident of St. Pierre and Miquelon.

Flagpoling is an option for these foreign nationals only.

Flagpoling for staying in Canada as a visitor

Section 180 of IRPR practically leaves the decision of authorization to stay to a Border Services Officer.

R180 A foreign national who holds a temporary resident visa is not authorized to enter and remain in Canada as a temporary resident unless, following an examination, it is established that the foreign national and their accompanying family members

(a) met the requirements for issuance of their temporary resident visa at the time it was issued; and

(b) continue to meet these requirements at the time of the examination on entry into Canada.

So if someone flagpoles and they have valid status in Canada, they may be able to renew it at a port of entry. Of course, they need to show the officer they still meet the requirements of R179, especially if they have no intention to overstay in Canada. You could also locate this under A20(1)(b).

Flagpoling for validating the Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR)

A person who holds a “raw” COPR and shows up at a port of entry could land in Canada under the authority of A20(1)(a).

A20 (1) Every foreign national, other than a foreign national referred to in section 19, who seeks to enter or remain in Canada must establish,

(a) to become a permanent resident, that they hold the visa or other document required under the regulations and have come to Canada in order to establish permanent residence.

If you need more information, read Chapter 4 of the Enforcement operational manual (i.e. ENF 4:
Port of entry examinations).

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Problems facing people who flagpole

People who decide to flagpole could face any of the following issues:

  • Due to the refusal of their visa to the US, they could face problems travelling to the United States in the future.
  • The Canada Border Services Officer may refuse to issue the new status to them for any of the following reasons:
    • Lack of documents
    • Staff shortage at the POE
    • Limited hours of operation
    • Inadmissibility to Canada
  • Sometimes officers issue removal orders for the applicants or detain them under the authority of IRPA or IRPR
  • They may ask the applicant to apply online or leave Canada and apply from outside Canada

Read the following article about nuts and bolts of flagpoling:

Flagpoling case laws

IRCC and CBSA prefer to stay away from this term. In fact, you may not find flagpoling in any official text of the government (or at least I was not able to locate it). Of course, their lack of interest could be due to the following reasons:

  • Flagpoling puts too much workload on the CBSA shoulders, and
  • it practically offers a short-cut to applications that usually take several weeks to complete

However, we have some case laws that refer to flagpoling:

You may find the following article useful:

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Al Parsai, MA, DTM, RCIC
Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant
Ashton College Instructor – Immigration Consulting
Author – 88 Tips on Immigration to Canada

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Al Parsai

This article has been expertly crafted by Al Parsai, a distinguished Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (L3 RCIC-IRB – Unrestricted Practice) hailing from vibrant Toronto, Canada. Al's academic achievements include an esteemed role as an adjunct professor at prestigious Queen's University Law School and Ashton College, as well as a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from York University. A respected member of CICC and CAPIC organizations, Al's insights are further enriched by his experience as the dynamic CEO of Parsai Immigration Services. Guiding thousands of applicants from over 55 countries through the immigration process since 2011, Al's articles offer a wealth of invaluable knowledge for readers.