For the last 7 years, visitors from visa-waiver countries have been able to apply for an eTA if they would like to enter Canada. Essentially, eTA involves a pre-screening process of individuals who want to visit the country in order to eliminate those who might present a security risk or who are likely to overstay their allotted time in Canada.
The applications are done online, and normally a decision is reached within minutes. An approved eTA is valid for a period of 5 years or until your passport expires, whatever happens first.
US citizens do not have to apply for an eTA, although US permanent residents still have to if they want to visit Canada. The implication of this rule is that if you are a Green card holder and live in the US, you must apply for an eTA if you want to visit Canada by plane.
Who is not allowed to apply for a Canadian eTA?
To get an eTA, visitors have to submit an online application. However, individuals with a criminal record can not follow this route because, depending on the nature of their conviction, they might be refused entry at the border. The reason is that the authorities don’t want potentially dangerous criminals in the country.
According to the Canadian IRCC (Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, foreign visitors who have been found guilty of a crime might be denied an eTA. Crimes that could disqualify someone include driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The bad news is that there isn’t any formal appeals process if your eTA is refused because of this. You will only be allowed to re-apply if new information has since come to light or the circumstances that led to your conviction have changed significantly.
Therefore, you can save yourself a lot of trouble by skipping the eTA process altogether if you are denied the first time and start looking for another option.
I have a criminal record. What are my options if I want to visit Canada?
Your best alternative to applying for an eTA if you have a criminal record is to submit an application for a TRP or Temporary Resident Permit. With a TRP, you will be allowed to enter Canada for a specific reason for a specific period of time, for example, to attend an important family event such as a funeral or a wedding or for business purposes.
At the moment, there is an application processing fee of CAD 200 involved with applying for a TRP. Your best option is to apply at your home country’s nearest Canadian embassy or consulate. In case there is an emergency, you might be successful with applying directly at the Canadian port of entry – but there is no guarantee that this will be successful. Which port of entry you choose might also impact your chances of success.
Should I apply for a TRP at the consulate or embassy, or can I do so at the border?
It is highly inadvisable to only apply for a TRP once you arrive at the Canadian Port of Entry. Why we say this is that the border authorities are under pressure to make an on-the-spot decision, and it could go either way.
If you have sufficient time to apply via a consulate or embassy well before your trip to Canada, this is your best option. Arriving at a land border crossing or airport and hoping for the best is a last resort. If you, nevertheless, decide on this route, be very careful what paperwork you bring with you, particularly if your trip isn’t of crucial importance and you have outstanding offences or convictions. If you, for example, decide to apply for a Canadian student permit or work permit at the border, and you have a past criminal or DUI conviction, your application could be rejected on the grounds of criminal inadmissibility. This is the case even if you, for example, already have an approved work visa or study visa.
Every visit to Canada is viewed as unique, so merely because someone with a DUI was, on a previous occasion, allowed to cross the Canadian border is no guarantee that they may not require a TRP the next time they want to enter Canada. The Canadian border authorities are slowly becoming increasingly strict with prospective visitors who have past DUIs, so many American citizens have in recent years been denied entry despite being allowed into Canada on an earlier occasion.
If you insist on trying to get a TRP at the Canadian border, you should make sure that you are fully prepared. Fill out the application form before the time and bring it with you to the border. Don’t think you can pitch up at the port of entry without being prepared. Driving under the influence is viewed as a serious crime by the Canadian authorities, and even a DUI that happened many years ago could prevent you from being allowed into Canada.
If five years or more have passed since you completed your sentence, you might qualify to apply for Criminal Rehabilitation, i.e. to petition the government to erase your criminal inadmissibility. This will depend on the seriousness of the crime involved and the sentence.
Once you have an eTA, you will be able to visit Canada as often as you like for short visits. An eTA is valid for 5 years, or until your passport expires, whatever comes first. The current cost is CAD 7. You can pay this with Paypal or your debit or credit card.
What is a TRV or Temporary Resident Visa?
This refers to an official document that can be obtained from the Canadian visa office. It is placed in someone’s passport to prove that he or she has met the admission requirements for Canada, either as a worker, student, or visitor.
Please note: You have to apply for a TRV before you embark on your trip to Canada. It can not be obtained at the border post when you arrive in Canada.
How is a TRV for Canada different from the TRP mentioned above?
A TRV refers to a travel document issued by the Canadian authorities to enable somebody who is otherwise not admissible to that country to visit it for a legitimate reason for a short period of time. A TRV is, therefore, an official Canadian travel document. It is placed in someone’s passport to prove that the applicant has met all the requirements to enter Canada for the period specified.
The requirements someone has to meet in order to get a TRV
You must prove to the official that you meet all the requirements mentioned in IRPA or the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the IRPR (Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations) and that your stay in Canada will be temporary.
You will also have to:
- Convince the official that you intend to leave Canada when the document expires
- Provide proof that you have sufficient funds to support yourself and any family members who might be travelling with you to Canada during your stay
- Provide proof that you have sufficient funds for you and your family to return home
- Convince the officer that you will not study or work in Canada without authorization
- Prove that you are a law-abiding citizen without a criminal record
- Prove that you do not pose a security risk to Canada and its people
- Provide any other documentation that the official finds necessary
- Prove that you don’t have any serious health issues and submit to a medical examination should the officer decide this is necessary
What is the situation if I have previously been granted permanent resident status in Canada?
Anyone who Canada has granted immigrant or permanent resident status could possibly still be a permanent resident. In that case, your TRV application will not be approved.
In that case, you might consider submitting an application for a Travel Document (Permanent Resident Abroad) instead. If you meet all the requirements for this type of travel document, you will be allowed to return to Canada as a permanent resident.
Should you no longer wish to remain a permanent resident, or you no longer meet the necessary requirements to remain one, you are free to renounce (give up) your permanent resident status and proceed with applying for a TRV.