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Canada and US to Cooperate on Launch of Visa Waiver ‘Action Plan’

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In a bid to secure the North American perimeter and increase border control, Canada and the United States have agreed to launch a new travel authorisation program. Known formally as the Canada-United States Perimeter Security and Economic Competitive Action Plan, the new strategy has been designed to identify threats before they reach a North American border.

The existing Electronic System for Travel Authorization (Esta Visa) in the US will now be complemented by the Electronic Travel Authorization Program, which will apply to visa-exempt foreign nationals travelling to Canada.

Although the Notice of Intent publicising the program was only published in December 2013, the program is expected to launch soon. Once the changes have been implemented, people travelling to Canada by air will be expected to apply for, and obtain, Electronic Travel Authorization Registration.

However, the new program won’t apply to every traveller. By implementing the new system, the Government of Canada hopes to identify visa-exempt foreign nationals who are inadmissible or do not meet the legal requirements to enter the country.

Although these travellers will now need to register with the new system in order to gain entry to Canada, the Citizenship and Immigration Canada Department have assured travellers that the electronic system will enable them to gain authorisation within minutes and it should not, therefore, place additional onerous requirements on travellers.

Whilst many people understand the need to increase border security, there have been concerns regarding the application of the new system and what will happen if a traveller is denied at Electronic Travel Authorization Registration prior to arriving in Canada.

The Citizenship and Immigration Canada Department have yet to announce how failed applications will be dealt with and many are keen to know whether a failed application on the automated electronic system will then be investigated further by an immigration official or whether they would automatically be denied entry to the country.

Some visa-exempt foreign nationals planning to travel to Canada have even expressed concern over the impact on their long-term travel plans. If an Electronic Travel Authorization application is denied, it hasn’t been made clear whether this denial would constitute a refusal of admission or a refusal of a visa.

Depending on how an authorisation denial is treated, travellers may have to declare their inadmissibility during future visa applications or inspections and many people are concerned that a failed authorisation request to could have a negative impact on their future applications.

People who fall under s190(2) and s190(2.1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations SOR/2002-227 will also be exempt from the program.

Although the new system is designed to increase security around the North American perimeter, critics have argued that it is unclear how much information will be shared with the United States. With many people reluctant to share personal information due to security concerns, it has been argued that the Government must be more transparent and open about who will have access to the information and how long it will be stored for.

Whilst questions regarding the details of the program still remain, it appears that the Citizenship and Immigration Canada Department are planning to implement the new program in upcoming months.

With new regulatory amendments due to be published soon, it’s hoped that the finer details concerned the program will be made public and that visa-exempt foreign nationals will be made aware of how the system will affect them when they next travel to Canada.

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