On July 31, 2018 Canada is imposing new biometric requirements on individuals wishing to visit Canada.
Biometrics refers to the taking of fingerprints and a photograph.
Biometrics collection is being expanded to include all persons (with certain exemptions) applying for temporary or permanent residence, including all those applying for a temporary or permanent resident visa or status, work permit, study permit, or temporary resident permit.
The Government of Canada is also introducing systematic fingerprint verification for all biometrically enrolled travellers at Canada’s major airports and expand fingerprint verification capacity at additional ports of entry.
Finally, Canada will enhance biometric information sharing between Canada and the United States and introduce biometric information sharing with other the Migration 5 partners, which are Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
The change is part of a worldwide trend. More than 70 countries worldwide have implemented or are planning to implement biometrics in their immigration and border programs, including allies such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union.
Who is Required to Provide Biometrics
Since 2013, citizens of 29 visa-required countries and one territory have been required to provide biometrics. Biometrics have also been collected from overseas refugee resettlement applicants since late 2014.
As of July 31, 2018, subject to certain exceptions, all persons applying for a temporary or permanent resident visa or status, work permit, study permit, temporary resident permit, or refugee protection, whether claimed inside or outside Canada, must provide biometrics.
There are numerous exceptions.
First, Americans are exempted.
Second, a person who is eligible to apply for an electronic travel authorization (an “eTA”), rather than a temporary resident visa, is not required to provide their biometrics if they are travelling to Canada as a tourist. In other words, citizens from visa exempt countries, including most Europeans, Japanese, Australians, Koreans, etc. will not need to provide biometrics if they are merely visiting Canada.
Third, children under the age of 14 will not need to provide biometrics.
Fourth, adults over the age of 79 (except for refugee claimants) will not need to provide biometrics.
Fifth, people who are making a study permit or work permit application from inside Canada will not need to provide biometrics.
There are also a myriad of exceptions that will apply to a smaller number of people, including those transiting through Canada, diplomats, heads of state, certain protected persons and for medical or other reasons that makes the collection of biometrics unfeasible.
How to Give Biometrics
Depending on their circumstances, people who are required to provide biometric information can either apply at an enrolment facility located overseas or in Canada, at a Canadian port of entry, or, if authorized in certain situations, at another location. A list of locations outside Canada that can provide biometrics can be found here.
The processing time for a visa, work permit, study permit, etc. will only start once biometrics are provided, and people should note this when considering processing times.
If there is no biometric service available where someone lives, they will have to find the location closest to them. There are 137 biometric collection locations in 95 countries around the world where people can give their biometrics.
Visa-exempt persons eligible to apply for a work or study permit at a port of entry will be to do so at designated ports, as will those requesting and receiving temporary resident permits. There are eight Canadian airports that will have biometric collection capabilities, as will all land crossings.
Protected persons and refugees who are applying for permanent residency from within Canada will be required to re-enroll their biometric information at service locations in Canada.
Biometrics will be valid for ten years, and a person who has provided biometrics will not need to do so again in future applications while they are still valid. An exception to this is that every permanent residence application will require biometrics.
As well, a visa, permit or status document will not be issued or granted for a period of authorization (or stay) beyond the validity of the applicant’s biometric information.
The fee to give biometrics is $85.00. The maximum that a family applying together is $170.00. The maximum for a group of three or more performing artists is $255.00.
There are numerous fee exemptions that are beyond the scope of this post, including for people applying for charitable or religious work permits, as well as certain academics.
Applicants may wear a head cover, but their whole face must be clearly visible.
What Immigration Authorities Do With Biometrics
In the Gazette, the Government of Canada summarized what immigration authorities do with the biometric information collected. The government stated:
Once collected, fingerprints are transmitted to the RCMP for storage and searching against fingerprint records of known offenders, past refugee claimants, persons who were previously deported and previous immigration applicants. Fingerprints are also automatically checked against United States immigration fingerprint holdings. At the ports of entry, border services officers compare the photograph with the photo in the passport and the face of the individual presenting themselves. At Canada’s major airports, when a person’s identity is called into question, border services officers can conduct fingerprint verification at secondary examination where the traveller’s fingerprints can be compared against the fingerprints previously collected in support of their application.
The Government of Canada further wrote the following in discussing the successes of biometric collection to date:
Biometrics have been effective in protecting the safety and security of Canadians, bolstering the integrity of Canada’s immigration system while facilitating entry for bona fide travellers. Under the TRBP, between September 2013 and August 2017, IRCC collected biometric information from approximately 1 213 733 applicants, resulting in matches to 2 011 previous asylum claimants, 186 161 previous immigration applicants, 720 Canadian criminal records, and 134 individuals who possessed both a Canadian criminal record and a previous asylum claim. These matches helped authorities confirm identity, identify applicants with criminal histories, and identify those who misrepresented themselves in their applications. Better detection has likely deterred inadmissible persons from applying in the first instance, which has reduced the administrative burden of processing these applicants. Biometric verification at ports of entry has made it more difficult for foreign nationals to assume another person’s identity to gain entry into Canada.