This is a guest post by our friend Avi Gomberg of Gomberg Dalfen S.E.N.C., a law firm specializing exclusively in Canadian immigration law. For additional information, contact the team at Gomberg Dalfen here.
Effective March 15, 2016, certain international travelers will need an entry document called an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) to travel by air to Canada. This applies to visa-exempt foreign nationals, in other words, non-Canadians who are not required to have a visa to enter Canada. The requirement only applies to those traveling by air, not those traveling by land or sea. It does not apply to citizens of the United States (those with U.S. residency (Green Cards) will require an eTA). Thus, if you require a visa to enter Canada or you are a U.S. citizen, you will not require an eTA.
What is the purpose of the eTA?
The implementation of the eTA program is a result of the Canada-United States Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness Action Plan. In essence, the eTA is a security measure that allows the Canadian authorities to screen foreign travellers before they arrive in order to ensure that they are not inadmissible to Canada. In the absence of such a pre-screening measure, visa-exempt foreign nationals are not systematically screened for admissibility until they arrive at a Canadian port of entry. The eTA will allow the Canadian authorities to lessen the expense and delay to travellers, airlines and the Canadian government caused by the significant volume of travellers being deemed inadmissible when arriving at Canadian ports of entry. Reasons for inadmissibility include membership in terrorist groups, participation in war crimes or crimes against humanity, membership in organized crime groups, criminality, or public health risks. The United States has already implemented a similar travel authorization program. Travellers will need to show the eTA before boarding a flight to Canada, or they will not be permitted to fly to Canada.
It is important to note that the requirement to obtain an eTA does not dispense with any other authorizations or requirements applicable to the traveler such as work permits or study permits. In addition, the traveler remains subject to examination by the Canada Border Services Agency upon arrival in Canada.
Who will need an eTA?
Citizens of the following countries will need an eTA to travel to Canada by air as of March 15, 2016: Andorra; Antigua and Barbuda; Australia; Austria; Bahamas; Barbados; Belgium; British citizens*; Brunei; Chile; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Hong Kong*; Hungary; Iceland; Ireland; Israel*; Italy; Japan; Republic of Korea; Latvia; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malta; Monaco; Netherlands; New Zealand; Norway; Papua New Guinea; Poland; Portugal; Samoa; San Marino; Singapore; Slovakia; Slovenia; Solomon Islands; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Taiwan* and Vatican City (Holy See).* It is best to always consult the Canadian government’s website for the most current list.
* Please note that certain citizens of these countries do require Visas to travel to Canada and hence would not need an eTA
Certain individuals are exempt from the eTA requirement. This group includes individuals who hold a valid Canadian temporary resident visa, members of the British Royal Family, and certain foreign nationals seeking only to transit through Canada as a passenger on a flight stopping in Canada for the purpose of refueling, among others.
How to get an eTA?
Applicants can access the eTA application online at www.canada.ca/eTA. Applicants will have to provide passport details, basic personal information, responses to background questions and contact information. The online application process also allows the applicant to indicate whether there are any additional details pertinent to the application, where applicants can indicate any urgent need to travel to Canada, if applicable. No documents are required for the eTA application. The Canadian authorities may request additional documents later, to be submitted manually. Once the application is submitted, the applicant will receive an automated email confirming receipt and containing an application number and a link by which the applicant can check the status of the application. The cost is CAD$7.00. Applicants who are unable to submit the application electronically because of a physical or mental disability may do so by other means, including a paper form of application.
The eTA itself is an electronic document. There is no paper evidence or counterfoil provided to the applicant upon approval. Air carriers have access to the Canada Border Security Agency’s database to confirm the presence of an eTA prior to boarding the aircraft. Before a boarding pass is issued, the air carrier must receive an “ok to board” message from the CBSA database.
How long will it take to process an eTA?
Most eTA applications are approved within minutes of applying. However, some requests may need more time to process. If this is the case for an application, one can expect an email from Citizenship and Immigration Canada within 72 hours that tells you what the next steps are.
How long is the eTA valid?
The eTA is linked to the applicant’s passport. It is valid for five years or until the passport expires, whichever occurs first. The same passport used to obtain the eTA must be used for travel with the eTA.
Gomberg Dalfen S.E.N.C. provides this newsletter as a service to its clients and colleagues, to provide updates on changes in Canadian immigration law. The information contained in this newsletter is not intended as legal advice, and persons receiving this information should not act on it without consulting professional legal counsel.
UPDATE -- The State Department has announced that as of June 26, all visa issuing posts are back online and are able to issue visas normally. The department expect to have the existing backlog of pending visa cases cleared before the July 4 Independence Day holiday.
Following up on our earlier post regarding the ongoing “visa freeze” caused by technical problems with the Department of State’s Consular Consolidated Database (CCD), we attended a meeting today with State Department officials who provided updated information.
As background, a hardware failure has prevented consular posts from receiving biometrics and other security clearances required for visa issuance since June 9, and posts worldwide are currently unable to issue visas for travel to the U.S. In today’s meeting, State Department officials stated that they hope to have the system at least partially operational at some point next week (June 22 – June 26).
Officials also confirmed that once the system is operating again, posts will prioritize applications as they work through the backlog. Priority will be given to emergency humanitarian cases, H-2A applications based on current agricultural needs, and F-1 students and J-1 exchange visitors who have impending program start dates.
Department officials reiterated that those with a pending application whose passport is being held by the post may withdraw their application and request the return of their passport if they have a need to travel elsewhere than the U.S. However, individuals must be aware of the ramifications of this as it pertains to future visa applications, especially applications for an ESTA clearance to travel under the Visa Waiver Program.
After returning the passport to an applicant making such a request, the post will issue a “refusal” (denial) of the visa application. This “denial” must then be disclosed on future visa applications and on any request for an ESTA clearance under the Visa Waiver Program.
With regard to ESTA processing, officials stated that this disclosure of the “refusal” would result in the ESTA application being sent for review, but if the review determined that the sole basis for refusal was due to the visa outage, the ESTA clearance would be issued.
The Department of State will update the public on the outage through its website, travel.state.gov, and through the websites for the individual posts. Of course, we will also keep our readers informed through continued email alerts and blog posts.
As always, please contact us with any questions.
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