By Sergio R. Karas, B.A., J.D.
A new era of airline passenger prescreening has begun in Canada following on the footsteps of the United States. Canada now requires that airline passengers provide personal and background information prior to travel, in an effort to minimize the number of visitors who may be inadmissible when appearing at a Port of Entry.
Although authorities made electron travel authorizations (eTAs) available as of March 15, 2016, and visa-exempt foreign nationals who fly to or transit through Canada were expected to obtain them, the requirement was only made mandatory as of September 29, 2016, after a leniency period expired. Individuals who are not otherwise exempt from obtaining an eTA will face considerable difficulty when attempting to board a flight to Canada.
Pursuant to Section 11 (1.01) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) the Federal government has created the requirement for visa-exempt foreign nationals to apply for an eTA. The section establishes the means by which that application must be made (i.e., through the electronic system).
Section 7.1(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) creates the requirement for visa-exempt foreign nationals to obtain an eTA before entering Canada, unless they are otherwise exempt by the regulations.
The eTA is a new entry requirement for visa-exempt, non-U.S. foreign nationals travelling to Canada by air. Travelers entering Canada by land, sea, and rail are not required to obtain an eTA. The purpose of the eTA program is to pre-screen travelers to ensure that they are admissible to Canada. The list of countries whose citizens require an eTA is found in Section 190 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations . Citizens of the United States and certain other small groups are exempt from obtaining an eTA. Specifically, Subsections 7.1(2) and 7.1(3) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations describe the individuals that are exempt from the eTA requirement.
Individuals who are required to obtain a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) by reason of their country of citizenship do not need to obtain an eTA, as they are prescreened at a visa post outside of Canada.
To apply for an eTA, foreign nationals must submit an application online using the eTA form at www.Canada.ca/eTA.
Applicants will need to provide the following information on their application form:
• Passport details
• Personal details
• Occupation and previous travel
• Responses to background questions (to assess for health, criminality and immigration-related concerns)
• Contact information
• A filing fee of CDN $7.00
There is also a text area at the end of the application form which allows the applicant to briefly indicate if there are additional details that must be considered. The applicant may express an urgent need to travel to Canada, or to provide other relevant information in that area.
No documents can be uploaded or added to the eTA application. If any additional documents are required, the applicant will be notified by email. That can delay the application process significantly.
Once the applicant has successfully submitted the eTA application, he or she will receive an automated email confirming receipt by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). This email will contain the application number, as well as a link to allow the applicant to check the status of their eTA application at any time.
Section 12.05 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations stipulates that an eTA is valid for five years or until the applicant’s passport expires, whichever occurs sooner.
An eTA can be cancelled by a designated officer pursuant to Section 12.06 of the Regulations.
After the application is received by the system, it will create a “prospective” application and will then perform an identity search to determine if the applicant already exists in the databases, and will associate the application to any existing UCI (unique client identifier) where possible. If no adverse information is found, the system will automatically notify the applicant by email that the eTA has been approved.
Occasionally, applications cannot be automatically approved. In that case, they are referred by the system for manual review in IRCC Operations Support Centre (OSC), where officers can request additional documents or a security screening, or both. If documents are required from the applicant, he or she will be directed to create a MyCIC account, to which they will link their eTA application. MyCIC offers a secure environment in which the applicant may communicate with IRCC and vice versa.
When a decision cannot be made due to the need for an interview or other factors, the application will be referred to a visa office. Other circumstances will require assessment in an overseas mission, including applications that result in the need for a Permanent Resident Determination, a Temporary Resident Permit, etc.
Cases referred to overseas missions will be processed in the same way that Temporary Resident Visa applications are currently processed. Officers may request an interview with the applicant if required.
Applicants whose eTAs are refused will be notified by email of the reasons for the decision.
eTAs are enforced using Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) Interactive Advance Passenger Information (IAPI) system. Unlike a Temporary Resident Visa, no counterfoil will be provided to an applicant upon approval of an eTA. Therefore, there is no official physical proof of the presence or validity of an eTA. Air carriers will use the CBSA’s IAPI system to confirm that an IRCC authorization to travel (either a visa or eTA) is linked to the traveler’s passport subject to the exceptions noted above. IAPI is an enhancement of the previous Advanced Passenger Information (API) program. It automates a previously manual process and requires air carriers to submit traveler API earlier (at check-in instead of takeoff). Air carriers will conduct their usual check-in procedures, which will now initiate an automated query in IAPI using the traveler’s passport number and country of issuance. Before a boarding pass can be printed, IAPI must provide an “ok to board” message to the air carrier.
Travelers must be careful to determine whether they require an eTA and, if they do, apply for it well in advance of their anticipated travel date to avoid any difficulties.
The advent of eTAs raise several concerns. It is unclear whether there is sufficient legislative authority to make a determination that a traveler who is visa-exempt is inadmissible to Canada prior to appearing at a post of entry for a full examination, or if such determination runs afoul of basic principles of fairness. Yet, a traveler who requires an eTA and does not obtain it will be prevented from boarding a flight bound for Canada. Further, the eTA system implicitly deputizes airline personnel to enforce immigration legislation by denying boarding to a traveler who has been unable to obtain an eTA. These questions will no doubt be litigated in the future.