From an interview with Hector F.
Hector was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. When he was only seven years old, three of his older half brothers emigrated with their father to Canada. Hector always dreamed of one day joining his brothers here. In 2013, it happened. One of his brothers had a plan. Hector came to Canada as an international student and then became a permanent resident. He lived with his brother while studying at Niagara College, graduating as a Computer Programmer. Hector started working to gain experience which would help him apply for permanent residence through Express Entry. Everything was going to plan until it was discovered that there had been an error on one of his application forms, and Hector had to return home in 2019 to reapply and start his journey again.
In the Dominican Republic, we have a culture of people moving to another country to provide a better life for themselves and their families. If your brother or your dad or your mom gets to move away to another country for a better life, maybe you can do it one day too. You feel happy for them, but at the same time, it’s hard on families. For me, as a seven-year old kid, all of a sudden, I pretty much lost my brothers. That was tough, but I always had the dream that one day I would join them, and my mother would be there and we would all be happy in Canada.
Since I was little, I felt like I was training for this. My whole life was just learning. I went to a one-of-a-kind high school. It was a technical school that had very high standards that turned out technicians and provided an engineering background. I was exposed to computers and computer programming at this time, which I fell in love with. There was a lot of work to do and lots of homework. And I did it. I was lucky that I had the dream of coming to Canada because it made me interested in learning English and being more in touch with music and movies and culture from North America. I felt like I was destined for this.
Fast-forward to 2013, I had finished high school and was working at an English-speaking call center in DR, when one of my brothers had a plan. He said, “Hey, let’s get together and try to bring Hector over – let’s bring him as a student.” In our situation, as siblings, family sponsorship didn’t apply. So, we decided I would come to Canada as an international student and I applied for my visa from Dominican Republic.
A funny thing happened on my way to Toronto –
I flew from the Dominican Republic to Toronto via Montreal with a one-hour layover. The problem was that when you arrive in Canada, you’re processed in the first port of entry – in my case, Montreal! I had to go through Customs and Immigration and wait in line with hundreds and hundreds of other students – it was a huge line! I missed my connecting flight by a few hours.
When I called my brother and told him what had happened, he said he would just drive to Montreal (a five-hour drive) to get me. I told him, “Just wait. Let me figure something out. I’ll use my English.”
I went to the Air Canada counter and explained what had happened, and they gave me a free flight from Montreal to Toronto! It was in a very small plane, though – a little, four-row plane. It was like a private jet. Instead of landing at Pearson International Airport, we landed at Billy Bishop airport, the island airport, right downtown. You get an amazing view of the city. It was crazy!
Tip for international students booking flights to Canada
When coming to Canada, you have to go through Customs and Immigration at your first point of entry. If you have a connecting flight to your final destination, make sure there are a few hours between flights.
International students, enjoy your college life in Canada
Everything clicked when I got here. I was 19, about to turn 20, and my student life and career were about to begin. I moved in with my brother, and I started going to Niagara College. I took the two-year diploma program in computer programming. That’s really all we could afford. It was great. I knew the language already, and I did really well at school. I even earned recognitions and awards for being the top student in the computer part of my program.
At Niagara College, like many colleges and universities in Canada, there are many international students, so they offer many services for international students. Because I lived with my brother, I didn’t really need a lot of the services, but I learned from my other international student friends how much the college helps. They help find student accommodation, help them with transportation from the airport, and help them settle in Canada. So, if you’re moving to Canada to study, be prepared, do your research and try to use your college’s resources as much as you can because they’re there for you.
Another thing that is great about Canada is that stuff just works. Everything is very efficient and reliable. Like public transportation, I can just look at my phone, see which bus to take, when the next one arrives, and how much it will cost. The college provided me with a free student pass to take any city and regional bus any time, anywhere, completely free. I really appreciated that.
Overall, the college experience was amazing. Those two years went by so fast. I made my fair share of college friends, and everything at the college was so welcoming and so warm. If life was as easy as college, then it would be so nice. Enjoy it while you can, because the time’s very short.
Tip for applying for a study permit in Canada
Try to apply for your study permit as early as possible. You don’t know if there’s going to be a delay or an issue, and you don’t want to end up having to start school late. It happens a lot. A friend of mine from the same college had to start almost two months late due to some issue. So always apply really, really early because if you start late, you’re off-balance, right?
Things are expensive in Canada: Find ways to save
I was not the kind of international student who came with a lot of money. My brother had to pay for my first year, and then I had to help pay for the second year. When I started in 2013, the rules were different: you had to wait until you finished your first term before you could begin working. So, I literally waited until the summer of 2014 to begin working. I had to work hard to supplement my tuition fees and be able to sustain myself here. You learn a lot about the value of money here and how easy it is to not manage it well.
The big shock for me was how expensive life is here. And when you come from another country with a different currency, it’s difficult to get a real sense of the value of $20.00 and what that buys you. It can be easy to overspend.
Studying in Canada? Budget and save your money
I was not a very organized person. I didn’t make budgets and all that, but I should have. As a student, take care of your finances. Save your money, especially with food at the college. Even though there are cheap foods that you can survive on, try to make your own food if you can. Try not to rely too much on just buying everything.
Fill out your PR application forms very carefully
For Express Entry, Canada uses a point-based system. Factors like skills, education, language ability, work experience, etc., are used to rank and evaluate individual immigration applications. There is a CRS tool that helps you see how you score. This score can be used to check if you rank above the minimum required points from the most recent round of invitations.
As an international student, if you complete a two-year or more college program here, you can apply for what’s called a Post-Graduation Work Permit. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get valuable Canadian experience on your way to your PR (permanent residency). I got the permit, and over the next few years, I worked as an eCommerce developer and web developer. I had gained a lot of experience and enough points by the time I applied for my PR in 2018.
Ten months later, I learned that during the application process, I made an error on one of my responses. What seemed like a small technicality was enough to invalidate my whole application. At that time, my work permit was coming to an end, so I had to leave. I had just rented a place in Toronto and met my girlfriend. I had to settle up my rent and leave her to go back to the Dominican Republic and apply again. For most of 2019, I was at home just waiting for my second application to go through.
You could say I let my guard down, so for my next application, I was prepared. I got all the help and advice I could on my own to fully understand every step of the application. I had more experience, and my English language scores went up a little – enough to give me the points I needed. The company I was working for in Niagara helped me a lot through the entire process. I even freelanced remotely for them from The Dominican Republic. I was just working hard and waiting and saving my money.
Tip for filling out PR application forms
You can definitely fill out your application for permanent residence by yourself. But there’s a lot to learn. There’s a lot to study, to be able to fill everything perfectly. Thousands of people have gone through the process, so there are thousands of resources. You’ve got to really understand what each question means. If you’re not sure, look it up. If you can afford it, hire a lawyer to help you.
Life in Canada: Take two
If you told me a year ago that I would be living in Toronto – where I wanted to live, doing what I wanted to do – I wouldn’t have believed you. This time last year, I didn’t know if I would be able to come back. But it’s all worked out in the end. In my case, I feel like I experienced both worlds. I came first as an international student and then as a career professional. It sometimes all feels like a dream to me.
When I returned to Toronto, I interviewed at RBC Ventures – one of the most innovative workplaces in the world and landed a role at Arrive, which was amazing as a newcomer. Now I work as a front-end developer on the Strategic Design team.
As I mentioned, right before I found out that I had to go home, I met my girlfriend. We were together long-distance while I reapplied, and now that I’m back, we live closer, and we’re happier than ever. We’ve been together through all of this. It is amazing here. I see myself advancing in my career. I’m excited for what’s next – for what the future may bring. I feel like this is just the beginning. I’m just warming up.