Biometric Travel Headaches

On December 1, 2013, I noted that Canada has introduced a biometric requirement for nationals of certain countries.  I wrote:

Biometrics is the measurement of unique physical characteristics, such as fingerprints and facial features, for the purpose of verifying identity. Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s (CIC’s) goal in requiring that certain foreign nationals provide biometrics is to make it more difficult for individuals to use another person’s identity, and to prevent criminals, deportees and previous failed refugee claimants from (re-)entering Canada using false identification.

By Dec. 11, citizens of the following countries will be required to give their biometrics (fingerprints and digital photograph) when they apply for a visitor visa, study permit or work permit: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Laos, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Vietnam and Yemen.

Applicants from the above-listed countries will be required to go to a Visa Application Centre (VAC) or a visa office (if a VAC is not available) to give their fingerprints and have their photographs taken. Digital copies will be sent to the Royal Canadian Mountain Police and to CIC, who will then check the fingerprints against criminal, refugee and visa application records. When successful applicants arrive at Canadian ports of entry, the Canada Border Services Agency will use the photograph and/or fingerprint to verify the identity of individuals.

Because of the biometrics requirement, it will no longer be possible for people from the above-mentioned countries to submit paper applications directly to a Canadian embassy or consulate. Instead, these individuals will have to apply in person at VACs. Online applicants will also receive instructions to appear at a VAC to provide their fingerprints.

The biometrics fee will be $85 per person. This fee is in addition to the visa/permit application fee. Individuals will need to give their biometrics, and pay the fee, each time they apply for a visa or permit, making the value of multiple-entry visas that much greater.

CIC’s goal is that by 2014 there will be more than 133 VACs in 96 countries with biometric capabilities. Unfortunately, until this goal is realized, people in countries including Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Iran and Vietnam will actually have to leave their country in order to provide their biometrics at a VAC or Canadian Consulate which has biometric capabilities.

Applicants under the age of 14, over the age of 80, diplomats and people who are already in Canada are exempt from the requirement.

Difficulty Obtaining Biometrics

As stated above, many of the countries whose citizens are required to provide biometrics to visit Canada do not actually have CIC-approved biometric collection facilities.  CIC is requiring that such individuals travel abroad to provide their fingerprints at acceptable facilities.  The CIC website has a useful Google Map which shows individuals where the nearest biometric collection facility is.

As shown below, the citizens of some countries will have some serious travelling to do if they want to apply for a visa to visit Canada.  Ironically, they will likely have to apply for visas to visit countries to give fingerprints to apply for a visa to visit Canada.

Country

Biometric Collection Point?

Nearest Biometric Collection Point

Afghanistan

No

Pakistan

Albania

Yes

 

Algeria

Yes

Bangladesh

Yes

Burma (Myanmar)

No

Cambodia

Cambodia

Yes

Colombia

Yes

Democratic Republic of Congo

No

Kenya

Egypt

Yes

Eritrea

No

Saudi Arabia

Haiti

Yes

Iran

No

United Arab Emirates

Iraq

No

Bahrain

Jamaica

Yes

Jordan

Yes

Laos

No

Vietnam

Lebanon

Yes

Libya

Yes

Nigeria

Yes

Pakistan

Yes

Palestinian Authority

No

Israel, Jordan

Saudi Arabia

Yes

Somalia

No

Kenya

South Sudan

No

Kenya

Sri Lanka

Yes

Sudan

No

Egypt

Syria

No

Israel, Turkey

Tunisia

Yes

Vietnam

Yes

Yemen

No

Saudi Arabia

 

Given this, it is difficult to see how many people from Afghanistan is going to be able to travel to Canada for the foreseeable future.  Is Turkey or Israel really going to admit Syrian nationals for the purpose of fingerprint submission? Will Iranians be able to travel to Abu Dhabi?

As well, citizens of the above countries who are currently abroad may find it difficult to submit their biometrics.  For example, I am representing a Pakistani national currently working in Oman.  He will have to travel to the United Arab Emirates to submit his fingerprints to then apply for a visa to visit Canada.  The table below shows how far apart the biometric collection facilities currently are.

Country

Biometric Collection Point?

Nearest Office

Argentina

No

Ecuador

Brazil

No

Guyana

Chile

No

Ecuador

Japan

No

Mongolia

Russia

No

Georgia, Mongolia

Some individuals have quipped that the decision to implement a biometric requirement prior to ensuring that biometric collection facilities were in place is the Government of Canada’s way of indirectly limiting the number of people from these countries who visit Canada.  Others have even written that there may be racial intonations behind the biometric requirement.  While I do not believe that this was the government’s motivation, it is difficult to see how the current situation will result in anything but the door to Canada being closed completely shut on the citizens of certain countries. 


3 thoughts on “Biometric Travel Headaches

  1. Steven:

    I have been following your blog for about two years. I think you offer wonderful insights on immigration policies, not just for laymen, but also for immigration practitioners.

    This is my first time leaving my comment here.

    I was actually surprised when I saw the table for Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Japan, and Russia. At first, I thought CIC must be ignorant to require Japanese to travel to Mongolia to obtain biometrics. However, after some digging, I discovered that all of the countries mentioned above DO NOT require biometrics to enter Canada (thank God).

    While I agree with the rest of your points made in the post, the fact that Japan is so far away from Mongolia is a moot point, because Japanese nationals do not require biometrics to enter Canada. Also, the closest VAC for Japanese nationals would be Taiwan, instead of Mongolia, which also offers biometric services.

    Just my two cents.

    Sincerely,

    David

    1. David,

      Thank you for your comment on my blog. I might not have been clear in the original post. The citizens of those five countries do not require biometrics. However, foreign nationals residing in those countries who are from countries which require biometrics will have to travel them.

      For example, a Vietnamese foreign worker in Japan will have to travel to Taiwan to get their biometrics done.

      Thanks for reading the blog,

  2. Well, good point indeed. Few days ago i submitted my application online for Canadian entry visa and I’m from one of these countries above mentioned. In my country, Canada has no Visa Application Centre(VAC) nor a visa office. Now I’m required to travel to other country for the biometric collection. what if later i will be required to travel again, for a personal interview!

    I don’t think the decision of biometric requirement aims to limit number of people from these countries to visit Canada, and if this is the case that would be totally not smart! anyone who has some free time and little extra money can do the trip to deliver his biometric. the decision doesn’t stop anyone from traveling to Canada, while Canada can decide “simply” to higher the entry visa standards and to increase application rejections for certain countries!
    The biometric requirement might be important for the national security of Canada, but the implementation policies of the decision makes traveling to Canada unpleasant, it urgently needs more study, better arrangements and facilitation.

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