1. Do your homework BEFORE applying
Applying for permanent residence is a major undertaking - it is a time consuming process and will likely occupy your life from the day to you submit your application to the end of the process. To reduce your anxiety and eliminate as many "what ifs" from popping up after you submit your application, do your research before you submit your application. I stand by my signature that the CIC guide is your #1 source of information. Anyone applying should read the Application Guide on the CIC website from top to bottom at least twice before filling out the forms. Review the documentation checklist multiple times to fully understanding of what is required before you apply.
In addition, also consider reading the Operations Manual for the CEC class, which is a great resource for understanding how officers access an application.
2. Understand the Financial Costs
Not discussed here very often is the actual financial cost of completing your application. Here's a breakdown of the actual costs of my application-
Initial Application Expenses:
IELTS Exam: $285
Fingerprints (to send to embassy to obtain home country's police certificate): $85
Pictures (6 for application, 2 for IELTS): $40
Principal Application fee: $550
Total Medical Cost: $230
Pictures (3 were required): $20
Pictures (2 were required): $12
Right of Permanent Residence Fee: $490
Return XPresspost Envelope: $30
Total cost: $1,802 (for 1 person)
This does not include the costs if you needed to maintain your status while your application is processing (i.e. TRV renewal, bridging open work permit, etc.). I would suggest budgeting $2,000 per person for the total cost of getting the PR. If you apply using a representative, expect to add another $2,000-$5,000 to the cost.
3. Always use recent forms
Many people work on applications over a few months (filling forms well in advance). However the forms are constantly changed by the CIC (usually subtle updates), and no announcement is made when forms are updated. As such, it is important to always download and use the forms from the CIC website. You should never use forms downloaded from another website. You can usually check the version of the form which is printed at the bottom of the sheet to ensure you're submitting the most current version (compare the forms you complete to the ones on the CIC website).
4. Use professional skepticism when taking advice
This forum is an absolutely fantastic resource for anyone applying for the PR. However, there are a certain caveats that must be taken into account.
a) The CEC class is new and ever evolving - what this means is that the rules and processing procedures are changing dramatically on a frequent basis. As a result, while people reply here with the best intentions, very often the advice provided is out of date. I have been guilty of this several times. As such, substantiate any advice taken on this forum with information in the Application Guide and Operations Manual - at the very least, corroborate advice from multiple sources.
b) The above also replies to using information in older threads. Again, rules are ever changing so older posts may no longer be accurate/relevant.
c) Use common sense - if it seems wrong, there's a good chance that it is.
d) Using a representative doesn't absolve you from the responsibility of understanding what you're being told. Every week there's a post referring to bad advice received from a representative that either led to a refusal, or worse, misrepresentation. Even if you use a representative, it is your application. As such, research what you're being told and be skeptical - if it sounds too good to be true, it often is.
5. Choose your NOC Code Carefully
The single most important element of this class is your NOC code, and how it matches to your reference letter. This is a PASS/FAIL class, and Visa Officers have to make a judgemental call to the best of their ability based on the information you provide. As such, the more research and the stronger your support, the easier it is for the Visa Officer - try to put yourself in their shoes to understand where there may be ambiguity. Here's some general advice:
a) Write your duties independently of the NOC database - don't copy and paste from the NOC database as this will raise flags for the Visa Officer. Be true to what you do.
b) Obtain an opinion from the HRSDC for your NOC code based on the wording of your reference letter (http://www5.hrsdc.gc.ca/noc/english/noc/2011/ContactUs.aspx) - include their response with your application. This will help the Visa Officer in his assessment.
c) Be aware of NOC code overlaps, especially if your NOC code is similar to an UNSKILLED code - compare the duties between these codes carefully and ensure you aren't stretching your duties (this is very typical for administrative type jobs).
d) Make sure your language results are sufficient for your NOC code skill level.
6. Get someone to re-read your forms before submission
Before sending your forms, get someone to read your forms independently (family member, etc.). It is very easy to make an obvious mistake (like not signing your forms) when you've been starring at them for weeks end. You'd be amazed at how the most obvious mistakes can go undetected.
7. Don't apply too early
As mention in point #5, this is a PASS/FAIL class. As such, you're either eligible or you're not. You aren't eligible if you're almost but not quite there. It is highly recommended to apply with a couple extra days after meeting the requirements to ensure that you aren't penalized for any mistakes in calculation, or any ambiguity in dates. Make sure all supporting documentation is dated appropriate, especially that your reference letter is dated AFTER you meet the required work experience period (i.e. if you're eligible on June 1, don't get your letter done before then).
Another common area is the time period for graduates. This is a grey area, but the consensus here thus far is to apply with 1 year experience based on the date of your diploma (where it says your degree is conferred) or your post-graduate work permit issue date, whichever is later (i.e. always be conservative).
8. Prepare for the unexpected
Always prepare a plan B and plan C:
Prepare in case your application is returned and you will need to reapply.
Prepare in case your application takes longer than "normal" to process - i.e. prepare to apply for a bridging open work permit, renewal of your TRV, etc.
Prepare in case your application is rejected, and you need another path to permanent residence.
One can always hope that you never need to utilise another other than Plan A, but having other plans prepared or set in motion will help ease anxiety and give you ready alternatives in case things don't go your way.
9. Don't send too many inquiries
The CIC offices are understaffed and deal with a lot of applications. The CIC openly states that multiple queries can delay your application, and I think this is reasonable to assume given that you're interacting with humans, not robots. Don't pester them with repeated emails, as you wouldn't want an officer to be vindictive and "go-slow" your application (no evidence that they actually do this, but use common sense). You should use the GCMS notes if you need a general non-specific case query, rather than an email - 99.99% of the time you will get a generic response. Only contact them as requested.
10. Understand that processing times are individualistic
Waiting is stressful - everyone here knows it. To reduce stress and anxiety, try to get a full/big picture understanding of processing times. Key things to keep in mind:
a) Applications differ between individuals. The complexity in assessment between applications means different processing paths internally within the CIC. They have staff at different levels of seniority that assess application, and can internally defer applications to more senior staff when necessary. The times posted on the websites are averages, but actual processing times are heavily skewed. There is a wide range of processing times, so don't expect to be an average.
b) Criminality is usually the single most variable processing step - this is entirely based on things you cannot control (barring including your police certificates with your initial application). Depending on your background, travel history, name (common names reduce reliances on name databases), this can take months or even years to be completed. This is also a responsibility of CSIS (not CIC), so understand that they cannot control your criminality check.
c) Processing steps are changing very rapidly. Up to last year, all applications used to be processed in Buffalo, which is now closed. Then all application move to Ottawa for processing. It now appears as though applications are being processed at Sydney AND Ottawa. That's a lot of change in 1 year, and expect more changes in the next year. As such, your timeline will very likely be different from another person, even if you applied within the same month. For example, this happened with many of the June/July 2012 applications, where some received their AOR in 1 month and others received AORs in 6 months because the CIO started issuing AORs during that period as a result of a processing change. These changes are frequent.