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If you are a permanent resident of Canada and travel to the US, you are likely familiar with ESTA, the United States' Electronic System for Travel Authorization. ESTA is the way in which the US pre-screens travelers from about 30 countries who do not require a "visa" but who still require authorization to travel to the United States (referred to commonly as a "visa waiver"). People from the following countries need ESTA, or its paper equivalent, to travel to the United States. These countries make up the "Visa Waiver Program" (VWP).
If you are a Canadian Citizen, or a citizen of Bermuda, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia or Palau, you are exempt from both the visa requirement and the visa waiver / ESTA requirement to travel to the United States.
If you are from any other country in the world, you require a visa to travel to the United States, and that includes attending an interview.
As part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, Canada will now be adopting a similar policy but there is no news yet as to who will be exempted outside of American citizens and Canadian Permanent Residents (provided they possess a PR Card or PR Travel Document). Canada's version will be called the Electronic Travel Authorization (or eTA). This new security measure will likely effect people from the following countries who don't currently need a visa to travel to Canada:
|Andorra||Brunei||Germany||South Korea||New Zealand||Singapore|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Croatia||Greece||Latvia||Norway||Slovakia|
|Australia||Cyprus||Hungary||Liechtenstein||Papua New Guinea||Slovenia|
|Bahamas||Estonia||Ireland||Malta||St. Kitts and Nevis||Spain|
Also, the new policy may effect air crews, people transiting through Canada who would normally not require a transit visa, and people who have traveled to the United States and are re-entering Canada. So basically this effects everyone who isn't an American citizen or Canadian permanent resident. (No word yet on whether or not Bermudans will be able to travel to Canada without an eTA.)
In the United States, participation in the "visa waiver program" - i.e. having to apply for an ESTA instead of a US visa - is based primarily on the "Adjusted Visa Refusal Rate", or how frequently travelers from your country are denied visas to the US. The lower the rate, the more likely the country meets the requirements of the VWP. The Canadian program may function similarly, with countries dropping in and out depending on security issues.
Much like the US ESTA, the Canadian eTA has been conceived as an online screening process, meaning that you will have to complete your application for an eTA online before you travel. If eTA is anything like ESTA, you will not be allowed on a plane or a cruise ship unless you have your proof of a valid eTA approval when traveling to Canada. (However, if you are driving to Canada, the situation may be different. Currently it is still possible to apply for a paper "visa waiver", if required, at the border when traveling from Canada to the United States, and if Canada's new program follows the US's closely, then it is likely there will be some kind of paper option for travelers entering Canada by car who forgot to complete the eTA online.)
For the United States, ESTA only indicates permission to travel to the United States and does not guarantee entry; US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials can deny entry to anyone with a valid ESTA at their discretion. It is likely that the Canadian system will operate the same way, as Canadian tourist and business visas do not guarantee entry either.
So, for those who will need an eTA in 2015, this will likely be how you have to travel to Canada:
- Log on to Canada's eTA website and pay the fee
- Complete the application
- Receive your approval or rejection
- If you have been approved, book your trip (the approval is expected to be valid for 5 years)
- Present your eTA before boarding your plane or cruise ship
- Arrive in Canada and present your eTA to the Canadian Border Inspection Agency (CBSA) officer
- Enter Canada, if you are admissible
If you are not approved during the eTA process, you will likely have to apply for a visa to visit Canada. If you are denied entry at the border, you will have to apply for a Temporary Resident Permit the next time you try to travel to Canada.
eTA has a proposed startdate of April 2015, but given the wonders of democratic bureaucracy, it may take slightly longer than that. To be safe, plan for a Spring 2015 launch. So if you are a national of one of the above countries and you have been thinking about taking a trip to Canada, now's the time. Who knows how kink-free the governments website will be when it first launches?
The United States has had its own travel authorization / "visa waiver" program in place since 2008. The objective of the ESTA program is to identify people who are security risks ahead of time and to remove hastles for "trusted" travelers. In theory, the system forces potential security risks to go through the more thorough visa application process and saves the customs officers the trouble of having to catch these people at the port of entry. "Trusted" travelers have a supposedly easier time passing through customs. To our knowledge there is no evidence that the program is working better or worse than the previous policy for the VWP countries.
In order fulfil its obligations under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and to comply with the Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness Action Plan, Canada needs to bring its visa policies into line with the United States'. That is the primary reason for this change.