Are some Mexican and Romanian nationals taking advantage of Canada’s eTA program? That’s the accusation being levelled by US border officials, especially in the Lake Champlain area of the Canada-US border that includes Vermont and Eastern New York on one side, and Quebec on the other.

According to a report in conservative US media, the numbers of arrests for illegal crossings in what is known as “The Swanton Sector” of the US-Canada border have skyrocketed in the last few years. For example, in upstate New York, the number of Mexicans arrested for illegal crossings reportedly went from 65 in 2017 to 336 in 2019, while the number of Romanians went from a scant 30 to around 259. As should be obvious, these numbers are a rounding error compared to illegal crossings at the southern border, and illegal crossings have been higher in the past.

A trail near Swanton, Vermont ElliotRosewater [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

A hiking trail near Swanton, Vermont by Elliot Rosewater / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

So, the question is whether illegal crossings will continue to increase to higher levels that may cause alarm among US Border Patrol authorities.

The following chart shows how total illegal alien apprehensions by fiscal year (as recorded by the United States Border Patrol) surged in the first years of the century, then levelled off, and are now increasing, if only moderately, once again.


Total Illegal Alien Apprehensions by Fiscal Year (Northern Border – excluding Alaska) US Border Patrol

Fiscal Year Number of Apprehensions
2000 12,108
2001 12,338
2002 10,487
2003 10,157
2004 9,959
2005 7,343
2006 6,599
2007 6,380
2008 7,925
2009 6,806
2010 7,431
2011 6,123
2012 4,210
2013 3,050
2014 3,337
2015 2,626
2016 2,283
2017 3,027
2018 4,316

 As can be seen, after bottoming out around 2014, the numbers have been steadily climbing in the subsequent years. Again, these are minute figures compared to the southern border and were much higher back in the early 2000s, but we have what appears to be a push by United States Border Patrol officials in charge of the Canada-US border to increase their funding by pointing to recent rises in apprehensions. It’s how funding works. You point to a potential problem and ask for more resources and money from the federal government.

But could this recent phenomenon also lead to a further reaction from the US government?


Will Mexicans and Romanians Need Visas?

Specifically, there may be pressure in the near future from US authorities towards their Canadian counterparts in terms of Canada’s eTA (electronic travel authorization) program. This an electronically managed entry requirement for holders of passports from visa-exempt countries. It still requires a final check of your passport by immigration authorities when you arrive in Canada, but it allows multiple entries into Canada and is valid for 5 years. Go here for list of the countries Canada grants visa-exempt status to. Both Mexican and Romanian citizens have access to an eTA. In the case of Romanian citizens, they must also have an electronic passport.

Could US authorities start to demand that Canada limit the number of countries that it grants eTAs rather than visas to? Given how well-run Canada’s immigration system is, that would be an aggressive move by the United States, but it cannot be ruled out.

What the US Border Patrol agents in the news story seem to be suggesting is that the fact that Mexican and Romanian citizens have visa-exempt status in Canada while they must obtain a visa to travel to the U.S., is seen as a problem. Might the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) start pressuring Canada to “harmonize” its list of visa-exempt countries with that of the U.S.?

This would be ironic given that the Trump administration has professed a desire to move towards a more merit-based immigration system – one like Canada’s or Australia’s. But even if American authorities do apply pressure to Canadian officials, it is improbable that Mexican or Romanian citizens will suddenly have to go back to getting a visa stamped in their passports should they wish to travel to Canada.

The USA applied far more pressure on Canada regarding their northern neighbour’s Cuba policy and did so for decades. All because Ottawa maintained relations with the Castro regime, despite the criticism from Washington D.C. as well as from the exiled Cuban community in South Florida and elsewhere.

So, how worried should you be if you’re a Romanian or Mexican citizen with travel plans booked for trip to Canada?

Not too worried, as a matter of fact. At the end of November 2019, Mexican citizens might consider roasting a turkey and baking some pumpkin pie to give thanks for 3 years of visa-exempt status in Canada which started at midnight on November 25, 2016. It is unlikely that their eTAs will end up being mourned with candles and sweets. There will be no Dia de los Muertos for the eTA for travelers from south of the Rio Grande.

And as increasingly prosperous members of Europe, Romanian citizens can also remain confident that they will have access to eTAs for their travels to Canada. Viva Ottawa! And for those who do abuse the system to try and sneak across the border, your chances are looking gloomier every day. Hallowed ground indeed.

Want to be sure if you qualify for an eTA? Go here to check out our article on the topic.  

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