Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan's decision to step down from their senior royal roles and the news that they'll spend a "period of transition" in Canada and the UK has prompted a number of burning questions, including... can they just move to Canada? Can they work here? Can they obtain citizenship?
While nothing has been officially announced, there are a number of ways the Sussexes could spend more time in our country, including obtaining visitors permits or applying for temporary and permanent residency or even working for the Commonwealth. They might also be able to receive citizenship through a discretionary grant, immigration experts told HELLO! Canada.
"It's hard to actually split your time between two jurisdictions or more, particularly if you have a very extensive travel schedule, which presumably, may still be the case with these two," Sharry Aiken, a professor of law at Queen’s University and expert on immigration and refugee law, told us.
Harry, Meghan and Archie spent "private family time" in Canada last year on their six-week break from royal duties. During the period, they were said to have been staying at a home on Vancouver Island near North Saanich, just north of British Columbia's capital of Victoria.
Meghan is said to have since returned to Canada, where Archie was reportedly staying with his nanny. Reports the duke and duchess had flown their dogs to Canada and their pups had been with them during their break prompted even more speculation from royal watchers about whether the family would spend much more time here. The Queen confirmed this on Jan. 13 in a heartfelt statement in which she announced Meghan and Harry would spend a "period of transition" in Canada and the UK.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chimed in about the Sussexes this week, telling Global News he's supportive of their decision to be here, but there are still issues to be sorted out.
As for what the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will be doing in Canada, Justin said that still has not been determined, but says Canadians have a "general feeling of appreciation" for Harry and Meghan. Indeed, the causes the couple support fit well with Canada and the Commonwealth's strong tradition of advancing human rights, so there's a lot they could do in our country.
But what would that look like? Since Meghan and Harry are from the United States and United Kingdom, they don't need visas to enter Canada as visitors. The entire Sussex family would be able to stay here for up to six months as visitors, and they could renew those permits for six months after that, Joel Sandaluk, a Toronto-based lawyer specializing in immigration and refugee law, told HELLO! Canada. But there’s a catch – they can’t work as visitors, unless they obtain permits to do so, he said.
Joel stated while Meghan and Harry could be employed for British and American companies while they’re visitors and run businesses based outside of the country, they might run up against issues with the Canadian government. It could eventually argue they aren’t actually visitors and are residing here if they work for companies in other countries while on visitors permits, he emphasized.
Were the couple to take on a hypothetical role promoting the Commonwealth and work "essentially as diplomats," that would be "entirely unproblematic," Joel continued. But they would be employed on behalf of the UK government.
If they choose to work here, the couple could obtain permits through the CETA Free Trade Agreement with the European Union, according to an essay by Kelly Goldthorpe on the website for Green and Spiegel, a Toronto-based immigration law firm. But that might prove difficult with Brexit. As an alternative, they could also receive work authorization by arguing they would provide a "significant cultural or economic benefit to Canada," Kelly writes.
With work permits, they’d be able to apply for temporary residency and then permanent residency, she continues.
The Government of Canada's regulations say a person must have been present in Canada for 730 days within a five-year period to obtain permanent residency. When it comes to getting citizenship, a person needs to be in the country for 1,095 days within five years before signing an application.
Meeting those requirements might prove challenging considering Meghan and Harry want to split their time between the UK and Canada, Sharry told HELLO! Canada. But they could also obtain citizenship through a discretionary grant, she and Joel said.
Subsection 5(4) of the Citizenship Act allows the Minister to grant citizenship to "any person to alleviate cases of statelessness or of special or unusual hardship or to reward services of an exceptional nature to Canada." However, grants are made in "exceptional cases," according to the Government of Canada's website, which states "it should not be used as a means of circumventing the normal citizenship process."
Sharry told HELLO! Canada honourary grants of citizenship are rare and have been extended to people such as Nelson Mandela.
"I'm not sure that the same conditions apply, but that's definitely an option," she said. "The advantage of that is then it doesn't put them in a very difficult position of having to accumulate the number of days to maintain their permanent residence status... A direct application for citizenship would be the best option for them because it would mean the wouldn't have to worry about any of that, but it is discretionary, and it really would be impossible for me to comment on whether or not they would be likely to get it."
Joel said it's important to keep in mind Canada has a long history of accommodating royals – and not just the British Royal Family.
Princess Margriet of the Netherlands is an example. The Dutch royal family had been living in Canada since June 1940 due to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands when Margriet was born in Ottawa Civic Hospital in 1943. At the time, the federal government moved to declare the hospital temporarily extrajudicial and international territory so Margriet would get her citizenship only through her mother, the late Queen Juliana, making her Dutch and not a Canadian citizen.
"Harry and Meghan are still members of the British Royal Family and his grandmother is still the Head of State of Canada," Joel pointed out. "It's one of those things that Canada recognizes that because of its relationship with the British government and the British Crown, that it may very well be in Canada’s national interest to arrive at some sort of an accommodation."
Harry and Meghan have made no secret of their love for our country. Meghan spent seven years living in Toronto when she was a star on Suits, and Harry has fond and affectionate memories of Canada himself. His first overseas tour was here with his mother, the late Princess Diana, and his brother, Prince William. Royal watchers will likely remember their trip to Niagara Falls, on which they had great fun on the Maid of the Mist together.
"They seem to express sort of an affection here for Canada – especially the west coast – and there’s no reason to believe that they wouldn’t want to make their homes here," Joel says.