– Canada new Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) for visitors from visa-exempt countries
– All prospective international students planning to study in Canada are affected
– The Electronic Travel Authorization will be mandatory from March 15, 2016; applications can be done online from August 1, 2015
Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) recently announced its move to launch a new Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) requirement for all foreign visitors from visa-exempt countries, including international students.
Taking its cue from similar initiatives launched neighboring US and Australia, all visiting students from visa-exempt countries traveling either on a tourist or student visa would need the eTA. US citizens alongside diplomatic officials and transit travelers to the US are exempted from the eTA requirements.
CIC stated, “The number of visa-exempt foreign nationals traveling to Canada on a temporary basis per year is significantly larger than the number of visa-required travelers.” It was further cited that excluding the US, visa-exempt foreigners make up close to 74% of international visitors to Canada that come by air.
It is advised that those intending to visit Canada can apply for an eTA, preferably before making travel arrangements. Starting August 1, 2015, online applications can be made. While the CIC has mentioned that authorizations can be made within minutes, the intention is to ensure that all applications are processed within 72 hours. Visitors would need to pay CDN$7 (US$5) to apply and once approved, the eTA will be linked electronically to the applicant’s passport. Every eTA is valid for a period of five years.
Introduction of Pre-Screening
According to CIC, the main purpose of the eTA is to beef up security measures and pre-screen visitors before arrival into Canadian airports. A statement from the CIC affirmed that the only difference with eTA is that is it provides “basic personal information similar to what is currently collected when [visitors] arrive in Canada” before their arrival. With this information, the CIC can then use it to pre-screen foreign travelers that are not inadmissible to Canada. In short, “Put another way, the goal of the program is to facilitate travel for low-risk visitors, and at the same time, to remove any uncertainty about a visitor’s admissibility.”
Prior to the introduction of eTA, visa-exempt foreign travelers did not have to undergo pre-screening for admissibility until they arrive at entry points in Canada. This lack of diligence to pre-screen leaves the likelihood to deny visitors admission into Canada upon upon arrival.
In fact, CIC stated, “In 2012/23, the total number of visa-exempt foreign national who arrived in Canada and were deemed inadmissible for entry ports of entry was 7,055, [resulting] in significant expense, delay and convenience for these foreign nationals, other travelers, the airlines and the Canadian government.”
There are numerous reasons to deny foreign visitors entry such as participation in war crimes or crimes against humanity, terrorist organizations, espionage, human rights violation or general issues endangering public health and safety, like tuberculosis.
Timing is Everything
Effective March 15, 2015, those traveling to Canada from visa-exempt countries, must have an eTA; those without it may be denied entry into Canada or halted from boarding the flight to Canada from abroad.
The introduction of eTA by CIC also spell out implications for foreign students planning to study in Canada in the summer of fall for longer-term studies under Canada’s study permit. A statement by the CIC further noted:
“International students from visa-exempt countries who get their study permit on or after 1 August 2015, will automatically be issued an eTA, along with their permit. However, study permit holders who received their permit on or before 31 July 2015, will need to get an eTA if they plan to leave Canada and return by air, starting 15 March 2016.”
Officials and educators fear that this opens up a possible scenario they are keen to avoid – where students receiving study permits prior to July 31, 2015 leave the country and attempt to return after March 15, 2016, without an eTA. To be safe and avoid potential disappointment or denial into the country, CIC advises all students engaged in longer-term studies (and with a study permit issued prior to 1 August 2015), to apply for an eTA before planning to exit and return to Canada after mid March 2016.
The announcement of the eTA comes after another progressive policy change made in January this year – the introduction of Canada’s Express Entry program, catered to international graduates of Canadian universities seeking to immigrate to Canada.
The introduction of the Express Entry program did not come without its share of critics stating the struggles that Citizenship and Immigration Canada is already facing to keep up with the increasing demand from foreign students. While questions still remain on the long term impact of the new Express Entry system, internal CIC reports obtained by The Globe and Mail newspaper suggests that processing times for temporary resident visas have doubled while those for study permits have increased by 30%. The Globe reported, “waiting times for visas are weeks longer than those in Britain or the United States,” which inadvertently has placed Canada in a less competitive position.
The overall feedback from educators and also students infer that such policies need to take into consideration the experience of students and the overall performance of CIC’s initiatives to ensure Canada remains competitive in international markets. The latest introduction of the eTA and more importantly, its implementation will continue to be closely monitored inside and outside of Canada.