Executive Summary: A change to Canadian law that will take effect September 29, 2016, could have a significant impact on airline industry employers, as well as those in other industries whose employees frequently travel by air to Canada. The change will require all visa-exempt nationals (other than U.S. citizens) entering or transiting through Canada by air to have a valid electronic Travel Authorization (“eTA”) to board their flights.

Background: Generally, a foreigner visiting Canada requires an entry visa unless he or she is a citizen of a visa-exempt country. Until recently, visa-exempt travelers did not require any special Canadian documentation or travel clearances to transit or enter Canada for visitation purposes. However, effective September 29, 2016, visa-exempt air travelers to Canada will require a valid eTA to board their flights.

New Canadian eTA Requirement: Canada implemented the eTA requirement as a way to ascertain the admissibility of individuals from visa-exempt countries before they depart from their home countries. The eTA requirement was introduced in March, but included a leniency period, which expires September 29, 2016. On that date, visa-exempt nationals (other than U.S. citizens) entering or traveling through Canada by air must have a valid eTA to board their flights.

Airline crewmembers, as well as foreign nationals employed by other types of U.S. employers, who will be flying into Canada should review whether they need an eTA. If an eTA is required, employees should apply for one well in advance of any flight, as they will need the approved eTA to board their flights once the requirement takes effect.

Who needs a Canada entry visa?

Citizens of the following countries and territories need a visa to visit or transit Canada: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/visas-all.asp#visa

Who does not require a Canada entry visa but needs an eTA?

Citizens of the following countries do not require a visa to enter/transit Canada but will need an eTA before boarding their flight to Canada:

http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/visas-all.asp#eta

Individuals can find out whether they are required to obtain an eTA or entry visa here: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/visas.asp

Notably, U.S. citizens are exempt from the eTA requirement.

Where can I find the eTA Application?

An eTA application can be completed online at http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/eta-start.asp. Once complete, the eTA will be electronically linked to the individual’s passport.

Who is exempt from the eTA requirement?

A complete list of persons who are exempt from the eTA requirement is available at: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/visas-all.asp#eta-exemptions.

Specific exemptions for airline-related individuals are as follows:

  • US Citizens
  • Foreign nationals seeking to enter and remain in Canada solely:
    • As airline crewmembers or those in training to become crewmembers; or

    • Crewmembers traveling to or from work through Canada who have a ticket leaving Canada within 24 hours of their arrival.

  • Foreign nationals seeking to enter and remain in Canada solely to conduct inspections of the flight operation procedures or cabin safety of a commercial air carrier operating international flights, if they are a civil aviation inspector of a national aeronautical authority and possess valid documentation to that effect.

  • Foreign nationals seeking to enter and remain in Canada solely to participate as an accredited representative or as an adviser to an aviation accident or incident investigation conducted under the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board Act, if they possess valid documentation to that effect.

The Bottom Line:

Companies with employees entering/transiting through Canada by air should prepare their workforces to comply with the eTA requirement or face disruption to operations if employees do not have the necessary authorization to board their flights. While U.S. citizens are exempt from the Canada eTA requirement, U.S. permanent residents are not. They will require either an eTA or a Canada entry visa depending on the circumstances.

With respect to the airline industry, although there are some exceptions to the eTA requirement for visa-exempt crewmembers, crewmembers who will remain in Canada more than 24 hours will need an eTA. Since the rule is not yet effective, it is unclear how stringent the enforcement around the eTA will be. Unless an individual has any prior criminal infraction, the safest course may be for any visa-exempt foreign worker, including airline crewmembers, whether or not they stay in Canada more than 24 hours, to obtain an eTA. The application process only takes a few minutes, and applicants should receive e-mail confirmation within 72 hours of the application. The eTA is valid for five years or until the individual’s passport expires. If an individual has any criminal history, applying for an eTA could create more issues, so it would be important to discuss this with an attorney prior to submitting an eTA application.

Finally, the Canada eTA rule does not apply to visa-exempt travelers who will enter Canada by land or sea. In addition, the eTA rule does not apply to foreign nationals who are required to have a formal Canada entry visa prior to entering Canada.