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kerry-Molitor_finalElectronic Travel Authorizations (eTAs)

By: Kerry Molitor

Flying to Canada will become more complicated on March 15, 2016, when Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), former Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) start requiring Electronic Travel Authorizations for most visa-exempt travellers coming to Canada by air.

The Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) program was created as part of an agreement between Canada and the United States. In 2011, the two countries signed a declaration called Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness, which will help them work together to ensure a secure yet flexible flow of people and goods throughoutNorth America. Canada’s eTA program is similar to America’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) program.

Under current procedures, IRCC deals with issuing visas to foreign nationals seeking to enter Canada, and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) examines all travellers after they arrive at Canadian ports of entry such as airports. Arriving passengers are screened by CBSA officers who check passports and compare travellers’ names against databases and watch lists.

CBSA officers look for people who are suspected of membership in terrorist organizations; espionage; participation in war crimes or crimes against humanity; international human rights violations; membership in organized crime groups; criminality; or issues endangering public health, such as tuberculosis.

Once eTAsbecome mandatory, passengers will be screened electronically before they board a plane to Canada. The electronic screening allowsCBSA officers to deal with concerns before a person reaches Canada instead of at the airport upon arrival. While passengers will still meet with a CBSA officer at the airport, eTAs will make this in-person screening process faster and more efficient.

Electronic Travel Authorizations will be automatically issued with all temporary resident visas and permits, meaning that someone with one of these documents does not have to apply for an eTA separately. However, people from countries that benefit from visa-free travel to Canada will have to make a separate application for an eTA if they are coming without a work or study permit. TheeTAs are valid for five years or until the traveller’s passport expires (whichever comes first).

Canadian and American citizens are exempted from the eTArequirements; however, Canadian permanent residents wanting to fly to Canada must have an eTA and travel with a valid permanent resident card or travel document. American Green Card holders will also need eTAs.

The Canadian Government is making the eTA application process as streamlined as possible. Applications cost seven dollars Canadian and can be made online, including by smartphone. Applicants will be asked basic questions about themselves and their personal circumstances, such as their current employment, the money available for the trip, and any medical issues that may cause concern.

Usually, an eTA will be issued within minutes and confirmation will be sent to the applicant by email. There is no paper document because the eTA information will show up in CBSA’s computer system when the passport is scanned upon arrival at the airport.

Despite the rapid approval of most eTAs, potential travellers to Canada are encouraged to apply well in advance of their trip because some applications may take longer to process than others. If an officer identifies a concern, the applicant will receive an email within 72 hours indicating that either additional information or documents are needed, or an in-person interview is required at the nearest Canadian visa office.

If an eTA application is denied an officer may decide to issue a Temporary Resident Permit to allow the person to travel to Canada without an eTA. Applicants can also ask the Federal Court of Canada to review a negative decision though this is an expensive and time-consuming process. For this reason, anyone who is asked to provide additional information to CBSA should seek legal advice to ensure that an eTA is not refused based on a misunderstanding or an error in the file.


Kerry Molitor
Is a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (RCIC) based in Toronto, Canada. For more information please click here