Electronic pre-screening to be required for foreign air travelers to Canada starting next year
JULY, 2015 – On Saturday, August 1st, 2015, Citizenship and Immigration Canada will begin accepting applications for Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). Under the eTA system, which launches in March 2016, foreign air travelers to Canada from visa-exempt countries will have to submit personal information for pre-screening via the CIC website or else be deemed inadmissible by border authorities.
According to official CIC representatives, an eTA application will require the following information about the applicant:
- birthplace and birthdate
- passport information
Visiting foreign nationals whose countries require a visa are already obligated to supply the above details to the Canadian embassy or consulate before traveling to Canada.
The eTA system is one forthcoming development through which Canadian immigration intends to harmonize with the American travel security system. Comparable programs are already operating in the United States and Australia. Pre-screening will be mandatory for most air travelers, including those applying for study and work permits as well as visitors from countries that do not require a visa to enter Canada.
The following groups are exempted from eTA:
- members of the Royal Family
- American citizens
- crew members of commercial airlines
- valid visa-holders
- airline passengers in transit through Canada
- French citizens residing in St. Pierre and Miquelon
- airline passengers whose flight unexpectedly stops in Canada due to an emergency or unforeseen conditions
American green card holders, however, are not exempted from eTA.
The system has its vocal detractors, who regard it as an effort by Canadian immigration to stem the arrival of refugees. Critics also question the use of data gathered through the pre-screening process.
One such opponent of the eTA system is Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. As Paterson contends, “It aims at screening such people [as refugees] out and it looks to us as part of the broader government agenda to stop refugees before they are able to come.”
CIC, however, describes the new system as a valuable security measure. According to an official statement, “Providing the information required by these 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.”
Other benefits of the eTA system include the following:
- enhanced data-gathering capacity
- improved intelligence
- decreased gaps in information for commercial inbound air traffic
- enforcement for the visa program
Prospective air travelers to Canada are advised to take advantage of the enrolment period learn about the eTA system and acquire authorization before pre-screening becomes mandatory next year.
It will cost $7 in processing fees to apply for eTA, and most applicants will be approved within minutes of applying online. A positive authorization remains valid for five years or until the expiry of the applicant’s passport. However, if the traveler is deemed criminally inadmissible, then Canadian immigration official may cancel their eTA.
Statistics from Canadian immigration indicate that visa-exempt foreign nationals (excluding American citizens) account for roughly 74% of foreign air travelers to Canada. The most recent figures made public in 2013 show that a total of 7,055 visa-exempt travelers who arrived at the border were deemed inadmissible to Canada.
Travelers may be deemed inadmissible for a number of reasons, including the following:
- membership in a terrorist organization
- allegations of war crimes or crimes against humanity
- serious health threats (e.g., tuberculosis or other contagious diseases)
CIC official state that belated detection of inadmissibility causes significant expenses, delays, and other inconveniences for inadmissible individuals and their fellow travelers, as well as the airlines and Canadian immigration officials.
The eTA system is costing taxpayers $165.7 million due to initial upfront investment expenses and ongoing processing fees. CIC states that these costs will be offset by fee revenues and the savings from no longer having to process the average 4,500 or more inadmissible travelers to Canada.
If you wish to fly to Canada, you will have until March 15 of next year to submit your information electronically to Canadian immigration.