The federal government will soon be expanding its planned border exit-tracking system to avoid paying hundreds of millions of dollars in social benefits to vacationing Canadians who have long absences from Canada.
In conjunction with United States authorities, the expanded program will enable Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada to save between about $194 million and $319 million over five years.
Savings can be expected through “preventing abuse and eligibility fraud” with respect to the employment insurance, old age security and child tax benefit programs by ensuring Canadian residency requirements are fulfilled.
It estimates savings over five years of the following amounts:
- $48 million by Employment and Social Development Canada for the old age security program;
- $21 million by Employment and Social Development Canada for the employment insurance program;
- $125 million to $250 million by the Canada Revenue Agency for the child tax benefit program.
Under the 2011 perimeter security pact, Canada and the United States agreed to set up co-ordinated monitoring systems to track entry and exit information from travellers. Currently, the tracking system involves exchanging entry information collected from people at the land border — so that data on entry to one country serves as a record of exit from the other.
The first two phases of the program have been limited to foreign nationals and permanent residents of Canada and the United States, but not citizens of either country. Even though no revised dates have been announced, federal officials have said work continues on the final phases.
It has long been known that information from the entry-exit initiative would also be used to track the movement of suspected fugitives, child sex offenders, smugglers and terrorists, as well as identify people who remain in Canada past visa-expiration dates and help determine when those slated for deportation have voluntarily left.
However, the internal documents describe several measures to protect privacy including signs at the border to notify travellers their information may be used for program integrity. People flying into Canada have been warned for many years that information on their customs declaration card may be shared. Legislation to implement the final phases of the entry-exit initiative will reveal exactly how the information may be used and disclosed.
OAS benefits are calculated based on years of residence in Canada. After 40 years of residence after age 18, Canadians over age 65 are entitled to the maximum government pension.
OAS benefits are not reduced merely for spending too long outside Canada. It is common in fact for Canadian authorities to deposit benefit payments directly into the accounts of snowbirds who spend long periods of time outside Canada. The risk is for residents who do not acquire the requisite 40-year minimum after age 18 and do not disclose this on their application.
Health coverage benefits and income tax rules pose a bigger risk for Canadians who spend significant amounts of time outside Canada. Generally, Canadians who spend more than 183 days each year could be affected by Canadian and foreign legislation.