The Core Application

Now that you’ve read our previous blog post and perfected the refugee narrative, it’s time to put all that hard work to use, and move on to the main show: the core application.

Head’s up: by the time you’re done reading this, you may wonder what the heck you’re getting yourself into. “Really? So much effort?”

Yes it’s hard work but you’ll get through it, and feel a great sense of pride when you do. Keep the focus on the people you are helping, and the amazing hope and opportunity you are helping create – together. Because it takes a lot of work from everyone involved, and it is worth it.

Back to the task at hand. The 3 big documents are:

There are already plenty of great guidelines on how to fill out these forms properly – such as this one from the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program. We’ll let them do the explaining for you. What you’ll find here are some tricks to avoid the mistakes that people often make the first time, and hopefully make the process easier.

Downloading the Forms: the Curse of the PDF

The first thing you may notice if you clicked on the links above to Generic, Schedule A and Schedule 2, is that you can’t actually see the forms. You’ll get a “Please wait” message, and guess what? You’ll be waiting forever.

What you need to do instead is to hit control/right click on the page, choose “save as”, and save a local copy of the document to your computer.

The next fun part is when your computer doesn’t know how to open the PDFs, because it doesn’t have the right version of Adobe software to do so. And as you try to open them, Adobe might try to sell you some bells-and-whistles version of Adobe Acrobat: don’t fall for it. The free version of Adobe Reader is good enough and you can download it here.

And whatever you do, make sure you download the newest versions of the forms, straight from the Canadian immigration website. The saddest thing is filling out a form and realizing too late that Immigration released a very subtle update, and now you have to redo the whole thing.

After each new release, you have something like 6 months to get on board with the update or have your application sent back to you to redo. Check out the helpful video for tips on how to download and open the PDFs.

The Document First to Tackle: Generic

Generic, otherwise known as IMM0008, exists to establish the basics of who the person is. There is only one Generic form needed per family unit, so if you are dealing with a married couple, choose the person who has the stronger case. Either the applicant with the proper refugee paper, or with the more horrific, well-documented history of persecution – and greatest reason to fear being sent back to their country.

Good news – Generic is the easy of the three main documents, and is pretty self-explanatory. Since this is going to be a long post, let’s just touch upon a few main tips:

  • Personal details, on page 1: You want to make sure what you write here matches what’s on their IDs and other documents. The next blog post will be all about the documents and how to present them properly. But for now, just make sure you’ve collected their passports and national identity documents, so that the names and birthdays match what you’re writing here.

  • Contact info, on page 2. You’re asked for both “current mailing address” and “residential address.” Some people provide two different addresses, in case the refugee can’t receive mail or may relocate. In that case, use the sponsor’s address as the mailing address. But since most of the communication with immigration is these days done through email and phone, listing two addresses may not be necessary.

  • Marital status – IMPORTANT: If the person you’re applying for is married, even if the spouse is far away or estranged, you must include them here, in the marital status section on page 2. And guess what? You have to fundraise and apply for the spouse too – even if they don’t want to come to Canada! Same with the dependents listed on page 3 – all children under the age of 23 are considered dependents and the entire family unit must be included.

  • Passport and national identity document, also on page 2: If either of these have expired, don’t list them. Only current IDs are accepted. The good news is that you can actually come to Canada with the weakest of IDs. If you’re accepted by the PSR program, the officials give you a travel permit and PR document that allows you to fly. You don’t even need a passport!

  • Number of years of education in total, on page 3: Make sure the tally matches what you write on the ‘Education’ section in Schedule A.

  • Validate the document: Hitting the ‘validate’ button is weirdly satisfying, especially since it only works if you filled out the application properly. It generates two extra pages of bar codes. Why? Why not? They must be useful to someone.

  • Declaration and date: Remember the last page, where there’s a place to put the date and signature of the applicant. The date should be from around the time you actually submit the application, to avoid it being rejected as too old. And the signature… that’s a story for a later post, on how to finalize the application.

Let’s just say: don’t sign anything now, until the application is perfect. Because you can only edit it before the signature goes on.

Video Break!

Tired of reading? Here's a how-to video by the ever-helpful Refugee Sponsorship Training Program on filling out the application documents. Note that the video is from 2016, and the 'Generic' form doesn't really look like this any more!

Schedule A: Strictly the Facts

Schedule A and Schedule 2 get at a person’s life story in two different ways. Schedule A is all about facts and spreadsheets, whereas Schedule 2 covers much of the same ground but in narrative or sentence form.

Since much of what is being stated on these applications is hard to independently verify – at least at this early point – internal consistency is important. If you say on Schedule A that you were in Kuala Lumpur in December 2016, you better say the same thing in Schedule 2. More tips:

  • Your name in your native script, on page 1: Usually you can copy and paste this into the box. Some scripts, however, aren’t supported.

  • Personal details of your parents: These facts recur at the bottom of Schedule 2. So check to make sure your parents have the same birthdays and places.

  • The ‘have you… ever’ checklist (page 1, question 6): The answer to most of these will be “no”. If there is a “yes”, then put a note at the bottom with the related letter. “c) My application for refugee resettlement to the United State was denied on June 6, 2018 as “a matter of discretion” under INA section 207…”

  • Education, on page 2: List the schools in reverse chronological order, with the newest one at the top. You don’t need to list your elementary school, but do remember to include the years you spent there. Field of study is often “General”.

  • Personal history: Again, list in reverse chronological order. But more importantly, DON’T LEAVE ANY BLANKS IN THE RECORD. This is probably the #1 mistake made on applications – people skipping over the times when they weren’t doing much. If you were unemployed or in transit, say so, in the “Activity” column. One quick trick. If you look at the “from” and “two” columns in a downward diagonal, all the dates should be the same.

Why don’t you want to leave any gaps in time? Because it sets off alarm bells with Immigration. “OMG those three months in 2013 (when he was actually hiding in a basement), maybe he was secretly fighting in a war!”

And if there’s not enough room to list every activity from the past 10 years, add an addendum, which is basically the personal history in the form of a Word doc.

  • Organizations and governmental positions, page 2: The answer to these are often “NONE” under the name of the organization.

  • Military or paramilitary service, page 3: These details are often hard to dig up, since people often show up for military service without really knowing much about the units they’re serving . Push them for the details, since one of the top worries of Canadian immigration is they’re going to let a fighter into the country by accident.

  • Addresses, page 3: Here again, if there’s no room in the document to cover the past 10 years or everything since the person turned 18, add an addendum.

Hacks and Tips for Schedule A

Schedule A: Questions 7, 8 and 12, here's a way to make sure you haven't left any blanks in the record. Fix this by scanning the lines to make sure the final date on one matches the starting date on the next. Let your eyes move diagonally - does the date on the right column match the date on the left column above? If it's 2017-02 in column 2, then it should be 2017-02 in column 1 of the line above.

Why bother: applicants often skip months when they weren't doing anything. This is a big deal, because immigration insists: "There can be no gaps in the record."

Schedule 2: The Life Story

This is the longest form to fill out, and in some ways, the toughest. Especially question 1 and 2, which require you to summarize the applicant's life story in as succinct-yet-compelling way possible.

If you've written the narrative (step one of this guide), you're already well on your way, since it's basically the same thing.

  • Question 1 is the person's life story, including all the incidents of trouble and persecution that led them to leave their country in the first place. The trick to this one is to be factual, not emotive, describing the things that happened (in factual detail) rather than how they felt about those events. Skip the feelings! This is supposed to read more like a legal document than a cry from the heart.

As always, every claim should come attached to a place, date and sometimes a name. So if they "ran to a cousin's house because the Taliban were chasing them", what date did this occur? Which city? And ideally, what was the cousin's name? And how did they know it was the Taliban (because of their dress and long beards).

  • Question 2 is your journey out of your country to the one where you live now. As we saw in the previous write-up about the narrative, this can take some real time and digging to get right. Immigration is going to want to know the modes of transportation (planes, trains and automobiles), the airlines you took and even your flight numbers, the cities you visited, and where you stayed in those cities - and for which dates.

Pro tip: If you don't know the street address where you stayed, list the nearest landmark, such as a mosque or a hospital.

These are often the details people skip over for the sake of finishing the application, because it all happened so long ago. But these details are needed - now and later, when you do your embassy interview. So take time to get them right.

Check old Facebook posts for dates. Check old emails from airlines. And if all else fails, ask your mother, if you're lucky enough to still have one. Mothers remember everything.

Hacks and Tips for Schedule 2

Emotive language: One thing you may find, while editing someone's narrative, is that there are a lot of emotive or subjective phrases. "It was the most terrifying journey of my life, and I wondered when we would ever arrive." Editing is needed here. The style of these narratives is supposed to be "strictly the facts, ma'am". So rather than talking about how an event made you feel, better to describe the facts of the event itself - objectively - so that the feelings are inferred.

Pinning down details: The applicant is unlikely to remember their flight number, years later, though it doesn't hurt to ask. As for place names, many countries in the Middle East and definitely Afghanistan are notoriously off the map. Streets don't have names, sometimes people refer to the district where they live, rather than the town, and so on. When the geographical details are murky, one thing to do is ask the applicant to try to remember the nearest landmark, which is usually a school, mosque or hospital. Just to provide at least a sense of factual detail.

Pinning down dates: Some countries in the Middle East and definitely rural Afghanistan are also places where people don't use calendars (and definitely not Western calendars), which is why it sometimes seems like half the population was magically born on January 1. When dates are missing, encourage your applicant to make their most educated guess - at least to nail down the month and year. But for Schedule 2, Question 2 (the journey out of the home country), real dates are needed. This is where you check old emails and Facebook posts, and the other tricks described in "Section One - Writing the Narrative."

All Three Docs: Hacks and Tips for Proofreading

It's good to cross check your application forms for internal consistency. And why not? It's what the visa officers do, and which is why they build in the repetition. Since a lot of these facts are hard to confirm, at this point, the visa officers are looking for internal consistency to show that the person's story and facts line up. That's why a lot of the same information is listed in different ways on different forms - generally in table form in Schedule A, and in text form in Schedule 2.

If you're editing an application, you can use the same trick to help in your proofreading. For example, make sure the facts line up in these overlapping areas:

  • Parents' information: Top of Generic, bottom of Schedule 2

  • Bio data of applicant: Top of Generic, Page 5 of Schedule 2

  • Places lived: Question 1 and 2 of Schedule 2 (in text form), Question 7, 8 and 12 of Schedule A (in chart form)