The Canadian government’s new electronic travel authorization — called an eTA — becomes mandatory for thousands of foreign students, faculty, researchers and visitors to Canada from visa-exempt countries in mid-March 2016. But the federal government would like travellers to apply for the inexpensive documentation ahead of time, and is getting the word out to universities and other groups that will be affected by the new rule.
The new requirement puts Canada in step with the United States and several other countries that have similar programs designed to screen for security threats.
U.S. passport holders will be exempt from the new requirement, but everyone else who is accustomed to travelling to Canada without a visa must have an eTA or they will be denied entry: airlines will not allow them to board their flights. This includes citizens from most of Europe, including the United Kingdom, and from many Caribbean countries, Australia, and New Zealand. (It’s easy to check whether an eTA is needed by going to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website.)
Immigration authorities are urging people to beat the last-minute rush by applying online now. An eTA costs $7 and is valid for five years. According to a CIC statement, this period until mid-March “gives travellers the time to learn about and obtain their eTA before it becomes mandatory.” The aim is to process the application quickly — within 72 hours — and then the eTA is attached electronically to the applicant’s passport, showing up when the passport is scanned.
However, there’s a good chance that a number of the current holders of study and work permits could inadvertently find themselves barred from Canada after next March. CIC says that “International students from visa-exempt countries who get their study permit on or after August 1, 2015, will automatically be issued an eTA, along with their permit. However, study permit holders who received their permit on or before July 31, 2015, will need to get an eTA if they plan to leave Canada and return by air, starting March 15, 2016.”
The University of Toronto, with the largest cohort of international students in Canada, is aware of the coming eTA deadline but has opted to get through the busy fall orientation period before starting an information campaign to make sure students don’t fall through the cracks. No one wants to see a student who has gone home for a visit or left Canada for some reason stranded at a foreign airport because of a missing eTA.
“We’ve found that our ‘just-in-time’ messaging works very well with students,” said Miranda Cheng, director of U of T’s Centre for International Experience. She said the university’s international liaison officers are aware of the deadline and will get the word out closer to the deadline.
“Because this eTA is a new requirement, it’s important that everyone is aware.” She says this means holding workshops and meeting with students, in addition to the normal communication channels.
“The need for an eTA does seem to be under the radar right now,” said Jennifer Humphries, vice-president of the Canadian Bureau for International Education, who said she hopes applications aren’t left to the last minute.
CBIE will be offering courses for international student advisers this fall so they can meet the government’s criteria for advising on immigration matters. “Knowledge of the eTA is part of that program,” said Ms. Humphries, “so more international student advisers should know about it before the deadline.”