On August 1, 2015, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (“CIC”) began accepting online applications for the new electronic Travel Authorization (“eTA”) program. Starting March 15, 2016, most visa-exempt foreign nationals will not be permitted to board an airplane bound for Canada without first obtaining an eTA. The program aims to identify inadmissible foreign nationals prior to departure, deterring them from travelling and thereby avoiding significant expense and delay for the inadmissible individual, fellow travellers, air carriers, and the Canadian government. The eTA policy is expected to affect many travellers to Canada. Excluding citizens of the United States, who are exempt from the eTA requirement, visa-exempt foreign nationals represent approximately 74% of foreign nationals who arrive by air in Canada.

Background

On December 7, 2011, President Obama and Prime Minister Harper announced the Canada-United States Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness Action Plan's “Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness”, also known as the “Beyond the Border Action Plan”. As part of the Beyond the Border Action Plan, Canada sought to harmonize its border security procedures with those of the United States, which has had the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (“ESTA”) and Visa Waiver program in place since 2008. The eTA program was introduced by CIC on April 1, 2015 via amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (“IRPA”) andImmigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (“IRPR”). The program is part of a suite of security-enhancing and trade-facilitating border control programs being introduced by CIC and the Canadian Border Services Agency (“CBSA”).

Applicability

Previously, visa-exempt foreign nationals were able to travel to Canada with a valid passport or other travel document, and were screened for inadmissibility by a Border Services Officer at their Canadian point of entry. Time pressures and limited access to information could make such screening challenging to perform effectively.

Under section 7.1(1) of the IRPR, an eTA will be required after March 1, 2016 for all visa-exempt foreign nationals travelling by air to Canada, whether visiting temporarily or simply transiting through. This includes travellers from Commonwealth nations such as Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. An eTA is still not required for foreign nationals entering Canada by land or sea.

Visa-required foreign nationals will continue to require individualized admissibility screening as part of an application for a Temporary Resident Visa (“TRV”).

Exceptions to Applicability

Under section 7.1(3) of the IRPR, exceptions from the eTA requirement have been granted for the following visa-exempt foreign nationals:

  • Any member of the Royal Family, including the Queen;
  • A United States citizen (permanent residents will still require an eTA);
  • A French citizen resident in the territories of St. Pierre and Miquelon, off the coast of Newfoundland, entering Canada directly;
  • A holder of a valid Canadian study or work permit re-entering Canada after a visit of authorized duration solely to the United States or St. Pierre and Miquelon;
  • A diplomat, consular office representative or official of a foreign country or of any international organization of which Canada is a member, who holds a passport containing a diplomatic acceptance, a consular acceptance or an official acceptance issued by Canada;
  • A non-civilian member of the armed forces of a country designated under the Visiting Forces Act, travelling in an official capacity;
  • A member of an airline crew travelling to Canada solely in order to work, while working, or after working, if departing within 24 hours of arrival;
  • A documented civil aviation inspector of a national aeronautical authority conducting inspections for a commercial air carrier;
  • An accredited representative or advisor to an aviation incident investigation under the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board Act.
  • An airline passenger transiting through Canada who is:
    • stopping for the sole purpose of refueling while en route to or from the United States, if the foreign national will be or was lawfully admitted to that country; or
    • forced to make an emergency landing in Canada;
    • a foreign national travelling on a commercial air transport provider that holds a Memorandum of Understanding with Canada permitting passengers from the foreign national's country to transit through Canada without a Canadian visa if in possession of the documents required to enter the destination country (for example, as part of the Transit Without Visa program (TWOV) or the China Transit Program (CTP));

Canadians are equivalently exempted from being required to obtain ESTA approval when travelling to the United States.

Application Process

Standard Online Application

Section 12.04(1) of the IRPR governs the application process. Applications must be submitted through CIC's online portal (unless an applicant with a physical or mental disability requires accommodation by other means). The application must be accompanied by credit card payment of the $7 cost-recovery fee. Applicants can track the status of their applications online.

A standard applicant must submit biographical information and information about their passport or travel documentation, including passport number, date of issue, expiry date, and issuing authority or country. The applicant must answer background questions assessing admissibility; these questions are similar to those asked by a Border Services Officer at a point of entry. Finally, the applicant must make a declaration that the information provided is complete and accurate.

An application is first processed automatically. If no adverse information is disclosed by or associated with the applicant, they will receive an approval email within minutes. If automatic approval is not available, an application will be referred for manual review by an immigration officer. CIC service standards aim to notify such applications of next steps within 72 hours of the application.

Additional documents or security screenings may be requested as part of a manual review. If the immigration officer is unable to make a decision — for example, if an interview is required — the applicant will be directed to apply for a TRV at their local visa office.

Applicants who are refused an eTA will be sent reasons for the decision by email. An applicant may be found inadmissible because they present with security concerns, previous criminality, health concerns, insufficient financial resources, or have made a misrepresentation during the application process. Such applicants will be required to apply for a Temporary Resident Permit, which requires the applicant to have a compelling justification for wishing to enter Canada.

Combined Work/Study Permit Application

The CIC will consider an application for a work permit or a study permit to constitute an application for an eTA. There is no need to apply or pay the eTA processing fee separately. However, current holders of work or study permits will be required to apply separately for an eTA in order to re-enter Canada after visiting a country other than the United States, or the French territories of St. Pierre and Miquelon.

Validity

Section 12.05 of the IRPR governs the validity of eTAs. An eTA is valid until the earlier of five years from the date of issuance; the day the holder's passport expires; or the day a new eTA is issued. Under section 12.06 of the IRPR, an immigration officer may also cancel an eTA if the officer determines upon arrival that the holder is inadmissible.

An eTA authorizes multiple entries for stays of up to six months each, or to the date prescribed by an immigration officer upon arrival.

No physical documentation or proof will be issued to holders of a valid eTA. Instead, the eTA is electronically linked to a traveller's passport. Prior to departure from the country of origin, air carriers will use the CBCA's new Interactive Advance Passenger Information (“IAPI”) system to screen passengers for a valid eTA.