The Government of Canada has tabled a bill which would include provisions requiring all visa exempt nationals, other than citizens of the USA, to complete an electronic travel authorization prior to being eligible to board a flight to Canada. At present, such individuals may appear at the port of entry without seeking any prior admission from the Canadian government, and in many of these cases may seek work permits or business visitor status at such time as well.
Being called a simplified electronic visa, the system – which is expected to have a fee associated with submission – is intended to screen inadmissible persons prior to their arrival at a Canadian port of entry. Such inadmissibility may include those with criminal records, those on no-fly lists, and filed refugee claimants. Results are expected to take a few minutes to receive, and these would be printed for presentation to the airlines and Canadian officials.
The goal of the system is to improve the efficiency of admission of eligible travelers at Canadian ports of entries by reducing the appearance of those who are not eligible for entry. Critics are concerned about questions that would be asked as part of the application that may be an invasion of privacy, but other countries such as Australia and the USA presently have similar systems that have been operational for some time.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada has imposed Temporary Resident Visa (TRV, also referred to as a visitor visa) requirements for nationals of Botswana, Namibia, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Swaziland. Citizens of these countries must now apply to the responsible visa office in advance of travel in order to be eligible to appear at a Canadian port of entry.
This means that work permits must also be sought at a visa office prior to travel to Canada. Eligible TRV exempt nationals can commonly apply for work permits at the port of entry while travelling into Canada. The imposition of the TRV requirements in these cases means that this will not be possible for nationals of these countries. The most significant impact of this is to the timing of such applications. Whereas a port of entry case can be concluded in a matter of hours if clear and complete, a visa office application will require several weeks at a minimum, and possibly months.
In December of 2011, the Prime Minister of Canada and President of the USA made a joint announcement regarding plans to implement a cooperative effort to improve security and efficiency at the ports of entry (including border crossings and airports) between the two countries. The effort has numerous facets, which may see RCMP and US police officials obtain jurisdiction on either side of the border, improved airport security, sharing of infrastructure between certain border crossings, harmonization of rules, sharing of information, and more.
The prospect of sharing of information has certain advantages and disadvantages to holders of Canadian work permits. A principal goal of the effort would be to have better information on the movement of temporary residents relative to their permission to stay in Canada. For example, there would be more knowledge of whether or not a given individual respected the conditions of a temporary stay in Canada, leaving or otherwise renewing status within the time permitted. If implemented, an individual who overstays could face negative consequences in the case of any future effort to seek admission to Canada.
In certain cases, work permit holders are constrained by time limitations associated with the issuance of a Canadian work visa. For example, intra-company transferees may be permitted stays of between five and seven years, but such time is assessed only against the duration of time actually spent in Canada. In such a case, better exit controls may serve the purpose of facilitating demonstration of the duration of the actual stay of such a work permit holder, permitting the maximum actual duration of validity of the immigration document.
It is not yet clear how or if this effort will be implemented. There are also differing accounts of the extent and purpose of information sharing. However, this could be a very important development for the two countries.