By TOM GODFREY
Visitors from the Caribbean and elsewhere will soon have to access a computer and apply online to obtain permission to travel to Canada, under a new proposal by immigration officials in Ottawa that could begin next year.
The high-tech plan by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is set to take effect in April 2015 if it receives approval in Parliament, as many expect it would.
The proposal is part of Bill-C45 and amends the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to have all foreign nationals booking a flight to Canada to first obtain an eTA or “electronic travel authorization”.
It means potential visitors from all countries, except the U.S., will have to log on to a CIC website and input their name, date of birth, passport number, date of travel and other sensitive information.
The site will then compare the data against that in terror and other police databases before letting the applicant know in real time if they are eligible to travel here. Successful applicants will receive an eTA to show border agents on arrival in Canada.
The eTA contains a confirmation number that shows the applicant has been cleared and approved to visit Canada.
The e-ticket will cost travellers a fee and is only required for those arriving by air. The proposal is being pre-published this Spring and there will be public input before it becomes law.
Some members of the community say the plan can save potential visitors from the Caribbean time and money that may have been spent to travel to Canada and be refused entry.
CIC spokesman Remi Lariviere said the program is a key commitment under the Canada-U.S. Beyond the Border Action Plan, in which citizens from countries other than the U.S. will need to obtain online authorization.
“The application process will be quick, easy and cost a small fee,” Lariviere told Share by e-mail. “Travellers will provide basic personal information similar to what is collected when they arrive in Canada.”
He said the eTA will be issued within minutes of applying in a vast majority of cases.
“The system will screen out and prevent inadmissible third-country nationals from travelling to Canada while facilitating travel for those who are low-risk,” Lariviere said.
Under the plan, foreign visa-free nationals – including people from Britain, France and many other countries – would now have to successfully apply online to visit relatives in Canada.
Ottawa says the objective is to identify possible security threats before they reach North America.
NDP Multiculturalism Critic Andrew Cash said the plan is not transparent nor is there an appeal mechanism for applicants who are rejected.
“What happens if an eTA is denied?” Cash asked. “Is there a chance to appeal and who will have access to the information that an applicant enters?”
Canadian immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said the eTA is another step in the harmonization of border control between the U.S. and Canada.
“Travellers are better protected but on the other hand, your personal travel plans become government property,” Kurland said.
Canada expects about 3.5 million eTA applications each year after the regulations take effect.
More than 16 million tourists arrived in Canada in 2012, pumping US$17.4 billion into to the economy.