Without any press release, and without any indication at having meaningfully discussed the issue with Canadians, the Conservative government has introduced legislation which will create a program similar to the Visa Waiver Program in the United States.
Described as the “Electronic Travel Authorization” initiative, visitors to Canada from visa exempt countries, including presumably those from Europe and the United States, will soon have to complete an online form on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website to find out if they are admissible to Canada. Those cleared for travel will have to print the online confirmation and present it along with other travel documents before boarding an air plane destined to Canada.
Division 16 of Bill C-45, also known as the second budget implementation bill, contains provisions which will amend Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act as follows:
308. Section 11 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (1):
Electronic travel authorization
(1.01) Despite subsection (1), a foreign national must, before entering Canada, apply for an electronic travel authorization required by the regulations by means of an electronic system, unless the regulations provide that the application may be made by other means. The application may be examined by the system or by an officer and, if the system or officer determines that the foreign national is not inadmissible and meets the requirements of this Act, the authorization may be issued by the system or officer.
309. Section 14 of the Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (2):
Electronic travel authorization
(3) For the purposes of subsection 11(1.01), the regulations may include provisions respecting the circumstances in which an application may be made by other means and respecting those other means.
310. Subsection 15(1) of the Act is replaced by the following:
Examination by officer
15. (1) An officer is authorized to proceed with an examination if a person makes an application to the officer in accordance with this Act or if an application is made under subsection 11(1.01).
2012, c. 19, s. 706(1)
The amendments further note that Ministerial Instructions can alter the processing of such applications as long as they support the immigration goals of the Canadian government, and that the User Fees Act does not apply to the visa waiver program. It is not clear what the fee will be.
The government is saying that they expect that applications will be processed in a manner of minutes.
The Electronic Travel Authorization initiative does not come into affect until 2015. It will be interesting to see which countries are exempted by then, what the processing fee will be, how appeals will work, and what the public reaction is.
The most common question was how much it will cost a person to apply to the program.
The Government of Canada has not yet announced how much it will charge applicants to the program. In the United States, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization costs $14.00, and is valid for 2 years. (Only $4.00 goes to the cost of administering the program. The remaining $10.00 goes to tourism promotion.) In Australia, applicants can choose to pay AUD 20.00 for a 12 month authorization, or AUD 105.00 for a long term authorization valid for the duration of an applicant’s passport. These comparisons obviously don’t reveal how much Canada will charge, however, they provide an indication of what the “norm” for these types of programs are.
Another question was why applicants will have to go to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website to apply for an Electronic Travel Authorization when the airlines through which they booked their flights to Canada already collect this information.
I don’t know the answer to this question, but I would suspect that it because the airlines do not want to hold seats while Citizenship and Immigration Canada determines whether someone is admissible to Canada. The Electronic Travel Authorization can simply be part of the price of an airline ticket because of the complications involving flight refunds if authorization is refused.
The final, and in my opinion the most significant question, was whether the Electronic Travel Authorization programs means that Port of Entry Temporary Resident Permit (“TRP”) applications will become obsolete. Currently, an individual who is inadmissible to Canada can board an air-plane and apply for an urgent TRP to enter Canada when the individual appears before the Canada Border Services Agency. This will no longer be possible if people are prevented from boarding the plane.
Presumably, people who would have been admitted to Canada under a TRP at the Port of Entry will now have to apply for such permits at Canadian missions abroad. Processing times for such applications are already lengthy, and unless Citizenship and Immigration Canada increases resources abroad, are going to increase dramatically.
I’m not sure how the Government of Canada plans on addressing this, but it is imperative that they do so that straight forward TRP applications which would have been made at the Port of Entry (a process which was encouraged under the Tourism Facilitation Action Plan) do not clog the system, causing unnecessary personal and economic hardship.