In an effort to enhance the integrity of the Canadian immigration system, the federal government began collecting biometric data from foreign nationals of specific countries applying for temporary residence in 2013. In April of 2018, it was announced that the biometrics requirement will be incrementally expanded. By the end of 2018, all individuals who apply for a visitor visa, permanent residence, or refugee status, as well as all individuals applying for a work permit or a study permit (excluding U.S. nationals), will be required to provide their biometric data.

Citizens of European, Middle Eastern, and African countries who are not already required to provide their biometrics must do so starting July 31, 2018. On December 31, 2018, citizens of countries in Asia, Asia Pacific, and Central and South America will be required to provide biometrics.

In most cases, biometric information is valid for 10 years, therefore fingerprints and a photograph do not have to be provided for each new immigration application.

What are “biometrics”?

Under the biometrics program, certain foreign nationals are required to provide a fingerprint scan and a digital photo to the Canadian government before an immigration application can be processed. Biometrics help Canadian immigration officers confirm the identity and background of those traveling in and out of Canada. This information is used to detect the entry of those who may be found to pose a risk to the health, safety and security of Canadians.

Many other countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and countries in the European Union also collect biometric data from foreign nationals. The information may then be shared between countries in order to expand the scope of security screenings.

How do you provide biometrics?

Biometrics must be provided in person. This can be done at either a Visa Application Centre (VAC) outside of Canada, or at a Canadian port of entry for visa-exempt individuals applying for a study or work permit. Biometric data is collected by scanning and digitizing fingerprints and taking a digital photograph. This information is then stored in a database by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

There are currently 137 VACs in 95 countries around the world where biometrics can be given, and more VACs will be added worldwide to facilitate the expansion of the biometrics program. Further, 57 ports of entry, including all major airports in Canada, will have the ability to collect biometrics. The biometrics fee is $85 per individual or $170 for a family.

How will the expansion of the biometric program impact you?

The expansion of the biometrics requirement will add an additional step and cost to the processing of most immigration applications, including applications for a study or work permit being made in person at a port of entry. This can mean longer wait times at the border, as a study or work permit may only be issued after biometric data has been successfully collected and assessed. The RCMP has committed to a two (2) hour turnaround to review biometrics before issuing a temporary immigration document, however, they are currently seeing responses within 15-20 minutes.

Finally, foreign nationals who are already working or studying in Canada before the expansion of the biometrics program will only need to provide their biometric data should they wish to apply in Canada for an extension of their status. In-Canada enrollment centers will be available as of February 19, 2019.

Through the expansion of the biometrics program, Canada is joining a growing number of countries that collect, store, and even share personal biographical information of foreign nationals, in an attempt to strengthen the integrity of its immigration system.