Electronic Travel Authorizations and the Coming Headache for Permanent Residents

As of March 15, 2016, visa-exempt foreign nationals who visit or transit through Canada by air will need an Electronic Travel Authorization (“ETA”). This includes business visitors, tourists, work permit, and study permit applicants/holders. Only U.S. Citizens (and not U.S. green card holders) and travelers with Canadian work or study permits issued after August 1, 2015, are exempt from the requirement for an ETA. Foreign nationals traveling to Canada before March 15, 2016, do not require an ETA, but they can still apply for one.

Foreign nationals from visa requiring countries will continue to require a temporary resident visa (TRV) to enter Canada and will not require an ETA. To determine whether you require an ETA or a TRV visit Citizenship & Immigration Canada’s ( “CIC”, through the name has now changed to Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada “IRCC,” for ease of reference we will continue to refer to them by their former name) website here.

Starting August 1, 2015, ETAs were issued automatically to foreign nationals who were approved for a work or study permit. Foreign nationals who are working or studying in Canada on permits issued prior to August 1, 2015, do not require an ETA to remain in the country. However, if they travel outside of the country, they will require an ETA to return.

Foreign nationals who are eligible to apply for a work or study permit at the port of entry, must apply for an ETA prior to flying to Canada. Airlines will not allow those without an ETA to board a flight to Canada after March 15, 2016.

In order to apply for an ETA, foreign nationals must have a valid passport, a credit card, and an email address. ETAs are valid for up to five (5) years (dependent on passport expiry date) and cost $7. ETAs are tied to a foreign national’s passport. Consequently, foreign nationals with new passports will have to apply for a new ETA. In most cases, ETAs are confirmed within minutes. However, some applications may take longer to process. As such, we recommend applying for your ETA well in advance of your intended travel date.

Foreign nationals should be advised that an ETA is an immigration application, and should carefully consider the accuracy and truthfulness of all information being provided to CIC. Foreign nationals can be denied an ETA or refused entry to Canada for being inadmissible for reasons including, criminality or medical issues. Failure to answer all questions completely and honestly could result in a finding of misrepresentation which carries with it serious consequences. The lawyers at Capelle Kane are able to assist foreign nationals with properly completing ETA applications and to provide advice on admissibility issues.

In addition to applying for an ETA, foreign workers who are LMIA exempt and who intend to apply for a work permit at the port of entry should also ask their employers whether they have completed an “Offer of Employment” through the CIC Employer Portal. Proof of submission of the “Offer of Employment” and a copy of the compliance fee receipt will have to be provided upon arrival in Canada. Additional information on the new CIC Employer Portal can be found in our New CIC Employer Portal for LMIA Exempt Work Permits blog post.

Foreign nationals entering by land and sea do not require ETAs.

Foreign nationals should be aware that an ETA does not guarantee admission to Canada. Rather, it only permits the foreign national to board the flight to Canada. Canada Border Services Agency (“CBSA”) officers, make the final decision to permit entry to Canada after assessing all applications for admission. An ETA also does not replace the need for a work or study permit, both of which can be applied for either at the port of entry upon arrival in Canada or in advance online or by way of application to a local visa office. Processing times for applications submitted in advance vary by visa office.

Further information on ETAs can be found on CIC’s website here.

Permanent Residents Re-Entering Canada After March 15, 2016

Permanent Residents of Canada are not eligible to apply for ETAs. When ETAs become mandatory on March 15, 2016, all permanent residents, with the exception of those who are also U.S. citizens, will require a valid permanent resident card or a valid travel document to travel to Canada by air. After March 15, 2016, airlines may not permit permanent residents to board flights without a valid permanent resident card or travel document inserted into their passports.

Problematically, current processing times for permanent residence card renewals are in excess of six (6) months (170 days plus up to six weeks mailing time). Processing times for new permanent resident cards are in excess of 73 days (plus up to six weeks mailing time), i.e. over 4 months. In light of these excessively long processing times, permanent residents are encouraged to apply to renew their permanent resident cards far in advance of their expiry date and to take into account processing delays when planning any travel. We recommend applying for a new permanent residence card at least 9 months prior to the card’s expiry. For new permanent residents, travel outside of Canada can only be arranged if re-entry via a USA land-border is planned or if they are prepared to make an application and await the issuance of a permanent resident travel document at a visa office outside of Canada.

Commencing March 15, 2016, permanent residents who need to travel and who don’t possess valid permanent resident cards (not expired), will have two choices. They can fly to an airport in the United States and cross overland into Canada or they can apply for a travel document with CIC for the sole purpose of allowing re-entry.

Permanent residents who chose to fly into a U.S. airport can then drive to Canada and cross into Canada through a land border where they can demonstrate that either they have not received their initial PR card or that their application to renew their card is pending. They can prove CIC processing delays and show CIC’s current processing times for permanent resident cards which are updated weekly, on Thursdays, on the CIC website here: www.cic.gc.ca/english/information/times. Please note the option of seeking entry via the USA requires that the permanent resident be allowed to enter the United States. Advice should be sought from a U.S. immigration lawyer before entering the United States as to whether the permanent resident requires a U.S. non-immigrant visa or is visa exempt.

The second option is for the permanent resident to apply for a travel document in their country of nationality or the country where they have/will be legally admitted. Permanent residents may wish to submit the paper application prior to their travels to ensure that there is enough time to process their application before their return to Canada. Travel document applications should be submitted by mail to the appropriate Visa Application Center (VAC). Once the application has been processed, the Visa Application Center (VAC) will request that the foreign national provide their passport to permit the insertion of the travel document. Permanent residents should contact the VAC where they will be submitting their passport to determine processing times. Permanent residents should be aware that processing times are usually estimates, and that they have sufficient time to have their travel document issued and their passport returned before booking their return flight to Canada. Please note that applications for travel documents cannot be submitted in Canada.

CIC will process some applications for permanent resident cards on an urgent basis. To qualify, you must be traveling within the next three months. However, CIC will not guarantee urgent processing in advance of travel. Recently, in November and December 2015, CIC suspended urgent processing of permanent resident cards without notice.

Permanent residents whose permanent resident cards have expired should carefully consider travelling after March 15, 2016.

The lawyers of Capelle Kane are available to provide guidance on ETA applications and permanent resident card applications. We attentively follow the changes and updates to CIC programs and services to provide our clients with the most up-to-date information available.

Given the looming travel restrictions that have been created by CIC’s prolonged processing delays, we recommend that permanent residents re-examine their need to travel and plan only to undertake travel that is absolutely necessary. It is unclear how strictly the airlines will be when faced with travellers to Canada who are both visa exempt and have clear evidence of holding permanent residence status in Canada.