• Electronic Travel Authorization Becomes Mandatory
  • September 21, 2016 | Author: Jenna Kirk
  • Law Firm: Field Law - Calgary Office
  • On September 29, 2016 the leniency period will end and all visa-exempt foreign nationals travelling to Canada will require an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). An eTA can be obtained through an online pre-screening process that is designed to enhance the safety and security of Canadians, speed up the immigration process and prevent unnecessary costs and undue delays that typically result from the arrival of inadmissible travellers at Canadian airports and their subsequent removals.

    While the eTA was first made available on August 1, 2015, it became a mandatory travel requirement for all visa-exempt foreign nationals on March 15, 2016. Prior to its implementation, foreign nationals from visa-exempt countries were not subject to any type of security screening prior to arriving at a Canadian airport. Therefore, despite the substantial leniency period, some travellers may still be surprised to find that they are unable to board their flight without an eTA in the near future.

    Luckily for travellers most eTA applications are processed and approved within minutes. An eTA is obtained through Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s (IRCC) online application system and requires detailed information regarding an applicant’s health, criminal history, travel history and contact information. If approved, the eTA is electronically linked to a passport and remains valid for a period of five (5) years or until the passport expires, whichever comes first. If you receive a new passport, you will have to apply for a new eTA and re-pay the $7.00 processing fee.

    However, not all applications are processed as quickly as outlined above. In the event that an eTA cannot be automatically approved it is referred to an IRCC officer for review. Upon review, the IRCC officer can request additional documents or transfer the application to a Canadian visa office for further processing. As a result some applications can take days if not weeks. Therefore travellers should apply for an eTA well in advance of their anticipated travel date.

    The eTA program mirrors the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) program currently in force in the United States. As with the ESTA program, certain exemptions exist and U.S. citizens, Canadian Permanent Residents and individuals with a valid Canadian visa are not required to obtain an eTA in order to travel to Canada by air. In addition, foreign nationals arriving by land and sea are also exempt from the eTA requirement.

    While Canadian citizens, Canadian Permanent Residents and foreign nationals holding a valid Canadian visa do not require an eTA, they may still be affected by the associated legislated changes that are about to take effect. For example, Canadian citizens with dual citizenship may only travel to Canada by air using their Canadian passport. They will no longer be able to travel to Canada using an alternate passport and will not be able to obtain an eTA for any other passport.

    Canadian Permanent Residents will be required to travel with a valid Permanent Resident Card and their passport. As a result, it will become extremely important for Permanent Residents to monitor the expiry date of their Permanent Resident Card, a renewal for which can take many weeks to process.1

    Study or work permits issued on or after August 1, 2015 were automatically issued an eTA with the permit and do not require any further action. However, study or work permits issued on or before July 31, 2015, require an eTA prior to travel to or from Canada by air.

    Overall, if you are a Canadian or U.S. citizen, remember to always use your Canadian or U.S. passport when travelling to Canada by air. Alternatively, if you are a foreign national, ensure that you apply for an eTA well in advance of your departure. Inadmissibility issues must be dealt with prior to applying for an eTA. In addition, the refusal of an eTA application can only be challenged through an application for judicial review to the Federal Court of Canada.

    Current processing times can be found online here: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/information/times/