On September 30, 2012, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Canada Border Services Agency began a pilot entry/exit program whereby routine biographical information regarding travelers is collected at four designated land ports. On October 15, 2012, the two agencies will begin exchanging this information – the record of entry into one country will become a record of exit from the other country. Although the pilot program will end on January, 31, 2013, extension and expansion of the program to all U.S.-Canada border offices is expected.
The following four ports of entry are currently subject to this program:
- Pacific Highway, Blaine, Washington / Pacific Highway, British Columbia;
- Peace Arch, Blaine, Washington / Douglas (Peace Arch), British Columbia;
- Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, Lewiston, New York / Queenston-Lewiston Bridge,
- Ontario; and Rainbow Bridge, Niagara Falls, New York / Niagara Falls Rainbow Bridge, Niagara Falls, Ontario.
The agencies note that this coordinated entry/exit system will enhance border security. The reasons they cite for the enhanced security are that the U.S. and Canada will be able to identify persons who potentially overstay their lawful period of admission; they will be able to better monitor the departure of persons subject to removal orders; and they will verify that residency requirements are being met by applicants for continued eligibility in immigration programs.
One very concerning consequence of the program that the agencies are not sharing at this time is the heightened scrutiny for Canadian and U.S. visitors, particularly business visitors who cross the borders frequently. In the past, entry/exit recording of visitors between the U.S. and Canada land border offices has been irregular. Under the current system, information regarding how often the person has traveled to Canada and how long he or she has stayed in Canada on each trip, for instance, is often unknown to the Canadian border office. Under the new program, however, this information will be readily available on its database. This will subject frequent visitors to many more instances of questioning and interrogation as to whether the person’s activities in the country constitutes employment and not authorized as visitor activities, which could lead to more frequent admission denials at the ports. As always, it is essential that travelers possess ample documentation of the temporary and authorized nature of their visits to and from Canada. Alternatively, qualified visitors may apply for temporary work authorization/work permits to avoid potential border hassles every time they travel.