Tips on getting letters of support for your immigration application
One of the most common problems that clients have with Humanitarian and Compassionate, Temporary Resident Permit, or Criminal Rehabilitation applications is obtaining letters of support for their application. In these types of immigration applications, we need to convince the immigration officer that you deserve a particular type of status. In these types of discretionary applications, it is very important to have a wide assortment of evidence that shows that you meet the legal test for the program, and some of the most influential pieces of evidence can be letters of support.
These are letters from friends, family, relatives, community members, and others that talk about why you should be given the immigration status you are asking for. They can speak to your character, your experiences, and your personal circumstances. They can be a very influential piece of evidence in your application.
However, even though they are very important, I see people struggle time and time again to get letters of support. They tell me that whoever they ask to write a letter of support doesn’t know what to write. That’s why I’ve written this guide to help you get excellent letters of support for your immigration application.
1. Think about who you want to ask for letters of support
The first thing you need to do before you even ask someone to write a letter of support is figure out who you are going to ask to write one. The authors of these letters should be someone who knows you well, because they will be writing about your life, your personality, and your character. They should also have legal status in Canada, ideally as a citizen or a permanent resident. It is okay for family members and friends to write support letters for you, as these are probably the people that know you best. It is also a good idea to get letters from prominent individuals in the community. Perhaps you can get a letter from your Imam, Priest, or other religious leader. Is there a cause that you volunteer with? If so, try to get one of the leaders from the organization to write you a letter. If you are comfortably discussing your immigration situation with your boss or co-workers, you can approach them too.
A good rule of thumb for support letters is quality over quantity. It is much better to have a handful of high-quality letters than it is to have 20, 30, or even 40 low-quality letters. Think ahead, and approach only people who you think will speak highly of you, and who you know can do a good job.
2. Try and have the individual write the letter themselves.
Sometimes my clients will hand me a stack of support letters that are clearly all written by the same person, just with different names and signatures. They use the same sentence structure, the same phrases, the same layout, and the same font, over and over. If it’s immediately apparent to me that they are all written by the same person, then it will be even more apparent to an immigration officer who assesses these applications on a daily basis. Immigration officers will not trust letters that are all written by the same person.
The best advice I can give to my clients is to have others write their own support letters. Only the author of the letter knows the little personal details and real-world examples that make these support letters compelling. They will use their own unique writing style to convey their message. And most importantly, the immigration officer will see that a number of people took the time to write a detailed letter in support of you.
3. What Should a Letter of Support Look Like?
If you give your authors a detailed breakdown of what a letter of support should contain, not only are you setting them up to write an excellent support letter, you are also more likely to have them agree to write one for you.
Letters of support from individuals should contain the author’s name, and their status in Canada. They should have their address and telephone number, and even their email, somewhere in the letter, either in the introduction, or in the signature block underneath the signature. They should talk about how they know you in the letter, and they should provide a piece of ID that shows they legally reside in Canada (PR Card, Passport, Canadian birth certificate, etc.)
When you were meeting with your lawyer about filing this application, you lawyer should have explained the legal “test” you have to meet for your application. For instance, in a Temporary Residence Permit application, we need to convince the immigration officer that your need to be in Canada is compelling and outweighs any risk you pose to Canada. A letter of support should explain how you meet this test and provide examples as to how you exhibit this behaviour. So, for a Temporary Resident Permit support letter, the author should talk about how you are not a risk, and why it is very important for you to come to Canada.
Letters from organizations you volunteer with, or the church/mosque/temple you go to are similar but with a few key differences. The letter should be on letterhead with contact information for the organization. The person writing the letter should identify their title within the organization underneath their signature. The letter should speak to how you are a good person, and meet the legal test for your application, but it should also contain additional details talking about how long you have been involved in the organization, that you are a valuable and well-liked member of the organization, and what you do for the organization.
All letters, no matter who writes them, should be dated and signed.
4. Give your letter writers deadlines
It can be hard to get a letter of support from someone who is already very busy. What many of my clients find to be a particularly helpful practice is to give the letter writers deadlines. A realistic deadline for a letter of support would likely be 2 or 3 weeks. Depending on what your lawyer says, it might be ok to give them an extension; but it is very important for you to keep following up with your authors, and checking in on a regular basis.
5. Let your lawyer review draft letters of support
Before you finalize the letter (i.e. get the author to sign and date the letter), have the author send you a draft by email, and forward a copy to your lawyer. Your lawyer likely won’t edit too much for style or grammar (small mistakes make the letter seem more authentic). Your lawyer, however, is more likely to look at the content of the letter and think of ways that it could be strengthened. Giving your lawyer a few minutes to look at the letter could make an ‘okay’ letter a great letter.
Letters of support are a valuable piece of evidence for any type of discretionary immigration application, but applicants are often overwhelmed when faced with the prospect of obtaining a handful of strong support letters. I hope that these tips help you get strong support letters on a timely basis from your authors, and provide a roadmap as to what a good letter of support should obtain. I wish you the best on your immigration application, and if you would like to talk about your application, please feel free to give me a call.