Canada Introduces Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) after August 1, 2015

Annamaria White, Canadian Attorney in the US
Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 10:00am
Annamaria White, Attorney

Canada is introducing new entry requirements, known as Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA), for all non-U.S. visa-exempt foreign nationals travelling to Canada by air. These foreign nationals will be required to pre-register before they travel to Canada. Currently, there is no requirement to pre-register and all visa-exempt foreign nationals simply travel to Canada and present their passport at the port of entry, where they are then assessed for admissibility. The new eTA requirements only impact travel to Canada by air; entry requirements for travel to Canada by sea or land will not change.

Effective August 1, 2015, travelers will be able to apply for eTA online. This entry requirement application for eTA will become mandatory on March 15, 2016 and travelers will need to have an eTA before they board a flight to Canada. The eTA program is a key commitment of the Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness Action Plan and will mirror the current U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) program to ensure a common approach to screening travelers outside of North American. The objective of the eTA is to allow Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to identify individuals with admissibility concerns prior to their arrival at a Canadian port of entry. While U.S. citizens are exempt from eTA pre-registration; permanent residents of the U.S. flying to Canada will be required to get an eTA before they travel to Canada. Foreign nationals from all other visa exempt countries will need to pre-register any travel to Canada. A list of the countries whose foreign nationals will need an eTA before boarding flights to Canada is available here.

The eTA pre-registration does not apply to individuals who require a Temporary Resident Visa to enter Canada. Individuals who already have work or study permits are considered to have this eTA already. To date, it is not yet clear if the validity of their implied eTA expires upon the expiry of their status document.

Starting on March 15, 2016, visa-exempt work and study permit holders who are already in Canada will be required to obtain an eTA if they leave Canada and re-enter by air. Future applications for work permits and study permits will automatically be issued with an eTA as part of the study or work permit application at no additional charge.

Applicants will apply through an online system and will pay a CAD $7.00 processing fee per applicant, which is meant to help recover the cost of the eTA system. Once the pre-registration is submitted, the eTA will be granted within minutes, and in the majority of cases, it is expected to be approved within minutes. Cases that are submitted for further review will be subject to a service standard of 72 hours. In addition to the processing fee, the information that will be submitted with the pre-registration includes the following:

  • the applicant’s name;
  • the applicant’s date and place of birth;
  • the applicant’s gender;
  • the applicant’s marital status;
  • the applicant’s address;
  • the applicant’s nationality;
  • the number of the applicant’s passport or other travel document, together with its date of issue and its expiry date and the country or the authority that issued it;
  • the purpose and duration of the applicant’s temporary visit to Canada;
  • the applicant’s representative’s information (if applicable); and
  • a declaration that the information provided in the application is complete and accurate.

Applicants may be found to be inadmissible to Canada and have their eTA applications denied due to existing immigration admissibility criteria, such as criminality or fraud. The program will also provide CIC with the ability to cancel a previously approved eTA, if it is discovered at a later date that the individual is inadmissible.

eTA will be electronically linked to the traveler’s passport, and will be valid for a 5 year duration, or to the expiry of the foreign national’s passport, whichever comes first. If a foreign national obtains a new passport, a new eTA will be required before traveling to Canada.

In practice, almost all visa-exempt foreign nationals will be required to apply for the eTA prior to travelling to Canada. As such, employers should encourage foreign workers to plan ahead and obtain the eTA as soon as possible. As the eTA may be valid for up to five years, it may be beneficial to obtain the eTA at the earliest opportunity. Visa exempt foreign nationals applying at a visa office abroad will be able to benefit from the automatic issuance of the eTA.