Millions of travellers will soon face another layer of red tape when they try to visit Canada. Starting end of July, Ottawa will start accepting applications for electronic travel authorization (eTA) from people who wish to travel to Canada by air.
Prospective travellers have until March 15 to submit their biographic, passport and other personal information through Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s website for pre-screening or face being denied entry when the border enforcement kicks in.
The new measure is part of the harmonization with the United States’ travel security system and will apply to most air passengers, including all applicants for study and work permits, as well as those who come from countries that currently do not require a visa to come to Canada.
“Providing the information required by these amendments will allow Canada to determine the admissibility of foreign nationals before they arrive at the border and whether their travel poses migration or security risks,” the immigration department says.
The eTA system will “enhance data-gathering capacity, improve intelligence, close the gap on the lack of information that is provided for commercial aviation inbound traffic, and more generally to enforce the visa program.”
Critics view the initiative as another attempt to block refugees from arriving on Canadian soil and raise concerns over the use of the data in storage.
The eTA application costs $7 in processing fees and a positive eTA is valid for five years or when the traveller’s passport expires. Both the United States and Australia already have similar programs.
Groups exempted from the eTA requirement include: a member of the Royal Family, American citizens, commercial aircrew members, visitors with valid visas, passengers in transit through Canada and French citizens who are residents of St. Pierre and Miquelon.
Exemptions are also granted to those who arrive on flights that stop in Canada unexpectedly owing to an emergency.
However, a Canadian border officer may also cancel an eTA if the traveller is deemed inadmissible.
According to the immigration department, visa-exempt foreign nationals, excluding U.S. citizens, represent about 74 per cent of foreign nationals who arrive by air in Canada.
According to the latest statistics from 2013, reasons for travellers being deemed inadmissible for entry at the airport included membership in terrorist organizations, espionage, alleged participation in war crimes or crimes against humanity, criminality and health threats such as tuberculosis.
The new eTA system costs taxpayers $165.7 million due to initial upfront investment costs and the ongoing processing cost, which officials said would be offset by the fee revenue and savings from not having to process an average of more than 4,500 otherwise inadmissible visitors to the country.