The Beyond the Border Initiative – ETA, Information Sharing, Tracking Exits

[The following is a slightly edited (to include links) version of an article that I wrote for The Canadian Immigrant.]

In February 2011, Canada and the United States agreed to the Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competiveness. More commonly known as the Beyond the Border Action Plan, the effect of the agreement was to strengthen co-operation and, in some cases, harmonize Canadian and American immigration practices.

The Government of Canada has begun enthusiastically implementing the terms of the Beyond the Border Action Plan, and will in 2014-2015 introduce three significant changes to Canadian immigration legislation that will impact almost everyone who enters Canada.

Electronic travel authorization

People who wish to visit Canada generally fall into one of two categories:  those who need to apply for and obtain temporary resident visas prior to arriving in Canada; and those who can arrive at Canadian ports of entry without first obtaining a visa. This will change in April 2015, when Canada implements the electronic travel authorization (“eTA”) system.

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.  This includes Europeans, Australians, Japanese, Koreans, etc. Citizens from the United States, however, are exempt.

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 expects that the majority of applications will be approved within minutes.

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.

Sharing information

As I have previously written in Canadian Immigrant, biometric-based immigration information sharing with the United States will be implemented in 2014.

Canada and the United States will use the shared information to support each government’s assessment of visa applications, examinations of admissibility, and to generally ensure accuracy and reliability. Where a biometric match is established, the information that may be shared includes the immigration status of the individual, reasons for previous refusals, previous admissibility decision and general information relevant to admissibility.

In other words, whenever you apply to enter the United States, you should assume that CIC will know the details.

Tracking exits

Despite having numerous immigration programs that contain residency requirements, Canada has not collected exit information to date. As such, as part of the Beyond the Border Action Plan, Canada has committed that by June 30, 2014, it will systematically collect and reconcile entry and exit information. Airlines will be required to provide passenger information to the Government of Canada. The United States will soon be sharing its entry information with Canada, which will reconcile it to track exits.

Tracking exits will allow CIC to readily identify persons who overstay (and who previously overstayed) their visa. It will allow them to track the departure of persons subject to removal orders. It will immediately verify that residency requirements are being met by permanent residents.

Big impact
These changes are going to impact everyone who enters Canada. The amount of personal information that is going to be collected and shared across governments will be immense. Travellers have frequently liked to compare and contrast the entry and exist procedures of Canada and the United States.  By the end of 2015, they may find that it is almost exactly the same.


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