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Look out, Canada, here they come

The online outbursts have become customary during presidential election cycles: "I'm moving to Canada!" And this week saw plenty of them, as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump collected victories on Super Tuesday.

That night, Google recorded a sharp rise in searches that included the phrase "move to Canada," and many Twitter users vowed to flee north. Reports of the Canadian immigration website buckling under heavy traffic were, however, exaggerated. That was an unrelated technical problem, the agency said.

By Wednesday, news organizations were offering helpful guides on how to flee the United States.

This is mostly talk, of course. Recent American political history is strewn with the empty promises of self-exile from the losing side. (See Eddie Vedder, Robert Altman and Rush Limbaugh, among others.)

In the latest go-round, much of the dismay seems focused on the political ascendance of Trump. Thousands of Americans, including at least a few celebrities, claim to be exploring their options.

"Our phones, as of today, have literally gone crazy with Americans calling," an immigration lawyer in Vancouver, David Aujla, said Wednesday. "I used to say that George Bush was my best marketing ally. And I'm going to elevate Donald Trump to that position as soon as he becomes president."

The rise of Canada's left-leaning government last year, he added, has made for a "perfect storm" of daydreaming by U.S. liberals about a new life north of the border. Breathtaking landscapes and cradle-to-grave health care do not hurt the case either.

Julian Dotson, a Bernie Sanders supporter in Medford, Mass., said he and his girlfriend have been researching locations in Toronto and Nova Scotia. His is no idle threat, he asserted: If Sanders loses, they're packing their bags.

"Yesterday, what happened makes me sick," he said Wednesday, after the Vermont senator lost decisively to Clinton in contests across the South.

Dotson, 22, said he hopes to marry in a few years and start a family.

"It's just like, who wants to do it here?" he said. "We're not rich at all. But, I'm going to put as much effort as it takes to get out of this country if it looks like it's never going to turn around."

There are few reliable records on the numbers of Americans who have fled to Canada as a result of political disaffection, researchers say. The only clear surge of Americans fleeing north happened during the Vietnam War, as thousands of young men sought to avoid the military draft.

Some experts have linked a rise in Canada-bound migration in 2005 to the re-election of George W. Bush a year earlier, at a time when the United States was entangled in two wars overseas. But any claim about the motivations for moving, which can often be myriad, relies on anecdotes, said Janice Stein, a professor at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs.

For some in the latest crop of potential expatriates, the dismay over Trump appears to represent just one more shove in a direction they were already moving.

Rob Calabrese, a radio host in Nova Scotia, said he was inundated by more than 3,000 inquiries from people like Dotson after he, on a lark, set up a website last month inviting anti-Trump Americans to move to Cape Breton, an island along the Atlantic coast that has lost population as industries have left.

"People talk about Donald Trump. They talk about safety, security," Calabrese said. "A lot of people say they've just been thinking about moving somewhere for a long time and this maybe was the nudge they needed to get the ball rolling."

But immigration lawyers warn: It won't be easy.

A decade of Conservative rule in Canada beginning in 2006 reoriented the immigration system to put more emphasis on young people and skilled workers with job offers in hand.

Unless you fall neatly into certain categories, including students in higher education or someone trained in a list of professions found in the North American Free Trade Agreement, you could be out of luck. (If you're looking to retire in Canada, forget about it, lawyers say.)

"Sometimes I've had Americans who feel that they can just drive across the border," said Aujla, the lawyer. "It comes as a surprise to them, 'Oh what do you mean, I have to qualify?' Yes, you do have to qualify."

And even those who do can expect to spend six years or more doing paperwork and living on Canada's equivalent of a green card to build up residency requirements. A Trump or Clinton presidency could be over by then.

If the red tape is not enough to deter aspiring Canadians, there are other obstacles.

Margaret Wente, a U.S.-born columnist at the Globe and Mail in Toronto, offered some helpful thoughts on the possible deterrents and adjustments. There is no good Southern barbecue, she said, a house in Vancouver will cost you $2.4 million and winter lasts six months.

Then there are the cultural differences, she added: "You will have to learn some weird local customs, like saying 'sorry' when you bump into someone on the sidewalk."

Look out, Canada, here they come 03/03/16 [Last modified: Thursday, March 3, 2016 9:20pm]
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