Do I need an entry visa and what is an eTA?

An entry visa is a document that permits a foreign national to travel to a Canadian border and apply for status in Canada. An entry visa can be granted in connection to a request to be issued visitor, student, work, or permanent residence status. The visa itself does not confer immigration status and it is the immigration officer at an individual’s port of entry who has they final determination in regards to the grant of status. In more colloquial terms, the visa allows you to come to the door and knock, but it doesn’t let you in.

The need for an entry visa is dependant on the applicant’s country of citizenship. The basic understanding is that everyone needs a visa unless their country of citizenship is specifically exempted. The practical consequence of this is that individuals who need a work permit and require an entry visa must apply for their work permit at a visa post and obtain an approval letter before traveling to Canada, while those who are visa exempt can apply for a work permit right at their port of entry.

IRCC has recently announced that later in 2018, all foreign nationals traveling to Canada, with the exception of US citizens, will need to complete biometric screening whether or not they require an entry visa. For visa exempt nationals biometric screening will occur right at the Canadian port of entry.

For those individuals whose country of citizenship does not require an entry visa, requirements established in 2015 mandate that an eTA or “electronic Travel Authorization” be obtained before traveling to Canada. The process is meant to pre-screen visa exempt applicants for inadmissibility* or other potential entry complications and facilitate expedient border processes. eTAs are applied for electronically and can take up to 72 hours to process, although we generally see them issued within a day.

There are several exemptions to the requirement to obtain an eTA and it is important to know whether they apply to you before applying. These exceptions include US citizens, Canadian permanent residents, Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) holders, as well as others. Applying for and obtaining an eTA in these circumstances can be problematic and cause a person’s travel to be delayed or experience repeated complications upon entering Canada

There are countries that are “transitional” as to the requirement to apply for a visa. Although they are technically listed as visa exempt, there are specific circumstances in which the exemption applies and others where an entry visa is required. As of the time of drafting this article, Brazil is currently the only country that has been designated as a “transitional” country, although similar rules may apply for countries that issue both biometric and non- biometric passports

* Please watch for future postings on inadmissibility to Canada


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