In April 2015, Canada will adopt an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) program that is similar to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) in the United States and the Electronic Travel Authority in Australia. All foreign nationals who are exempt from the requirement to obtain a temporary resident visa will instead need to obtain online authorization before they fly to Canada.
Before traveling to Canada, and even before purchasing a ticket to come to Canada, travellers will be able to apply for an eTA through an online application process. The eTA application process will be online via the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website. Applicants will be required to enter biographic, passport and background information, which may affect admissibility to Canada. An electronic system will then perform an examination that includes a risk assessment and a verification of the information provided in the application against enforcement databases. The Government of Canada asserts that the majority of applications will be approved within minutes. Applicants may be found to be inadmissible to Canada and have their eTA applications denied due to existing immigration admissibility criteria, such as criminality or fraud.
Airlines will have to provide passenger information to Canadian immigration authorities prior to boarding. If an individual who has not yet received an eTA attempts to check in, then the airline will be informed that the person is prohibited from travelling to Canada.
The changes to the regulations will establish the eTA as a requirement for entry to Canada from specified foreign nationals. The regulations also specify how applications for an eTA would be submitted (e.g., online) and how they would be processed (e.g. through an electronic system).
CIC and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) are responsible for managing the entry of foreign nationals into Canada by ensuring that applicants meet the necessary admissibility criteria, including having the proper documentation and meeting financial and security requirements. While CIC officers determine the admissibility of all visa-required foreign nationals seeking to travel to Canada, the CBSA determines the admissibility of all foreign nationals at the port of entry (POE), including verifying documents, investigating immigration violations and generally denying entry to persons who are inadmissible, for example those who constitute a threat to the health of Canadians or to the safety or security of Canada.
Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, foreign nationals who are seeking to come to Canada on a temporary basis, must, before entering Canada, apply to an officer for a temporary resident visa or for any other document required by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (the Regulations). At present, this visa is Canada’s only mechanism for screening foreign nationals who intend to come to Canada on a temporary basis, in advance of travel, in order to manage migration-related risks.
The current visa framework effectively divides foreign nationals who intend to come to Canada on a temporary basis into two groups, based on the risks associated with their country of nationality: (1) visa-required foreign nationals who must undergo systematic overseas screening for admissibility before being authorized to travel to Canada; and (2) visa-exempt foreign nationals who are screened for admissibility only upon arrival at the Canadian border. Under the Regulations, foreign nationals coming to Canada on a temporary basis may be exempt from the requirement to hold a visa on the basis of their nationality, the document(s) they hold, or the purpose of their entry.
Under the current system, visa-exempt foreign nationals are not systematically screened for admissibility until they arrive at a Canadian POE. Only upon arrival are they subject to an examination during which CBSA Border Services Officers observe the applicant, examine his or her passport, check his or her name against automated databases and watch lists (which contain information regarding the admissibility of foreign nationals, including known terrorists, criminals and immigration law violators). The CBSA Border Services Officer uses the information ascertained during the admissibility examination to assess the foreign national’s eligibility for admission to Canada.
In 2012–2013, approximately 7000 visa-exempt foreign nationals arrived in Canada and were deemed inadmissible for entry at air POEs. Such occurrences cause significant expense, delay and inconvenience for foreign nationals, other travellers, the airlines and the Canadian government. Reasons for refusal can include membership in terrorist organizations; espionage; participation in war crimes or crimes against humanity; international human rights violations; membership in organized crime groups; criminality; or issues endangering public health, such as tuberculosis.
On February 4, 2011, the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of the United States issued a declaration entitled Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness. As part of the agreed-upon Action Plan, the Government of Canada announced plans to introduce an eTA which would mirror the ESTA program. ESTA was introduced in the United States to screen foreign nationals that qualify under the U.S. Visa Waiver Program prior to travelling to the United States.
As a related Action Plan initiative, the CBSA is developing the Interactive Advance Passenger Information (IAPI) system which would create the capacity to provide air carriers with a “board/no board” message on all travellers, including eTA-required foreign nationals, flying to Canada prior to departure. The regulatory authorities for the IAPI initiative will be developed under a separate regulatory proposal.
The proposed amendments to the Regulations:
- create the regulatory requirement for the eTA;
- establish the eTA application procedures;
- specify when an eTA expires and when it can be cancelled;
- set the fee that is payable for the processing of an eTA application; and
- create exemptions from the requirement to obtain an eTA.
The proposed amendments will require foreign nationals from visa-exempt countries who are not exempt from doing so to apply for an eTA online, through the CIC Web site, by entering biographic, passport and background information similar to the personal information that is currently collected by a CBSA Border Services Officer at a POE in Canada. The information required by these proposed amendments will allow Canada to determine the admissibility of foreign nationals before they arrive at the border and whether their travel poses migration or security risks. It is important to note that the eTA will only apply to individuals arriving by air. This is presumably because foreign nationals who arrive in Canada by land or sea will have already been approved by the United States under ESTA.
To ensure accessibility and provide flexibility to people with physical or mental disabilities who may be unable to access the electronic eTA application, the proposed Regulations will allow these foreign nationals to submit an application by another means that is available, such as in writing.
The proposed amendments will also set an eTA fee payable by applicants, as well as provide for a fee exemption for visa-exempt foreign nationals applying for a work permit or a study permit. Applicants required to obtain an eTA will pay a $7 processing fee, as a means to recover eTA costs, before electronically submitting the securely encrypted application to CIC. In circumstances where another application process is used, the fee will be paid when applicants submit their application.
In order to reduce the duplication of information to be provided by visa-exempt foreign nationals, the proposed Regulations will consider a visa-exempt foreign national’s application for a work permit or a study permit to constitute an application for an eTA.
The proposed amendments will establish that the eTA is valid for five years from the day on which it is issued or until the applicant’s passport or travel document expires, whichever is sooner. The proposed amendments will also provide an officer with the ability to cancel an eTA that was issued to a foreign national if the officer determines that the foreign national is inadmissible, thus providing an officer with the ability to revisit a visa-exempt foreign national’s eligibility to retain an eTA. This would include instances where a foreign national provided false information in the eTA application, where evidence indicates that a foreign national is inadmissible to Canada or where permitting the foreign national to travel to Canada would pose a security risk.
The following Temporary Resident Visa-exempt foreign nationals are exempt from the eTA requirement:
- U.S. nationals;
- Queen Elizabeth II and members of the Royal Family;
- accredited diplomats;
- those seeking to enter and remain in Canada as a member of a flight crew or to become a member of such a crew;
- those seeking to transit through Canada after working, or to work, as a member of a flight crew if they possess a ticket for departure from Canada within 24 hours after their arrival in Canada;
- civil aviation inspectors of a national aeronautical authority seeking to enter Canada in order to conduct inspections of the flight operation procedures or cabin safety of a commercial air carrier operating international flights;
- an accredited represented or advisor to an aviation accident or incident;
- residents of St. Pierre and Miquelon;
- visiting forces travelling to Canada to carry out official duties as a member of the armed forces of a country designated under the Visiting Forces Act, unless they have been designated as a civilian component of those armed forces;
- refuelling; and
- foreign nationals who hold a temporary residence visa or permit.