Q. I just returned to the U.S. after having spent a year and a half with my fiancée in Canada -- seven months of which I had no status. I had applied for an extension of my status, but it was denied.

Because I overstayed, I received a removal order for 12 months.

Is the only way for my return to Canada is to submit $400 for an ARC application, which I understand will take two to six months to process without any assurance of success? Are there other alternatives?

This is my only offense. I have no criminal offenses either in Canada or the US.

A. There is nothing wrong with visiting Canada and falling in love with someone while here. However, you have to keep your immigration status up.

When your extension application was refused you were probably given 30 days to leave Canada on your own.

Had you done so, you would have avoided a removal order. Furthermore, as a U.S. citizen you might have been able to return to Canada fairly soon since you wouldn’t have needed a visa to return here -- provided you could prove that you were going to leave Canada before your status expires again. Admittedly, this would have been a bit of a challenge given your history.

Immigration officials came down hard on you because you ignored the 30-day grace period they gave you.

The type of removal order you were issued, an exclusion order, prohibits you from returning to Canada for a full 12 months from the day you are removed. If you want to return to Canada before then, you would have to apply for an Authorization to Return to Canada (ARC) for which CIC charges $400 to process.

If you were to return to a Canadian port-of-entry before the 12-month period without the ARC it’s technically possible that you could be issued a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) which would permit your entry. However, I highly discourage you from even thinking about this since a more likely result is that you will be denied entry and issued a deportation order. A deportation order has no expiry date and will remain in effect until you get an ARC.

While you can apply for an ARC, it could be refused if you can’t satisfy immigration officials that you are fully resettled in the U.S. with a job, housing etc. sufficient to draw you back home in the event you get too cozy here again.

If you and your fiancée co-habited together for at least one year and meet the definition of common law partners within the meaning of our immigration laws, have her sponsor you right away. The recent break in your co-habitation won’t preclude her from sponsoring you since CIC acknowledges that “despite the break in co-habitation, a common law relationship exists if the couple has cohabited continuously in a conjugal relationship in the past for at least one year and intend to do so again as soon as possible.”

If you didn’t cohabit for a year, start this process as soon as you are married.

With the right advice, you might have avoided a completely unnecessary separation from your partner.

– Guidy Mamann practices law in Toronto at Mamann, Sandaluk and is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as an immigration specialist. Reach him confidentially at 416-862-0000 or at metro@migrationlaw.com.