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Major changes in store for Canada’s landed immigrants

I have learned that the U.S. Department of State will soon announce (perhaps by the time this issue hits the street) a major procedural change for Canadian landed immigrants entering the U.S.As you kn...

I have learned that the U.S. Department of State will soon announce (perhaps by the time this issue hits the street) a major procedural change for Canadian landed immigrants entering the U.S.

As you know, Canadian citizens have long been passport and visa exempt. That means a Canadian citizen visitor to the U.S. can obtain entry upon showing proof of citizenship and evidence as to the visitor nature of the trip. A passport is not required and no special visa needs to be obtained from a U.S. consulate in Canada.

For the most part, whether it’s a truck driver entering as a business visitor or simply a visitor with a Buffalo hockey game in mind, entry is almost always achieved by answering a couple of questions. On occasion, providing documentary evidence of citizenship or the purpose of the trip may also be required.

Citizens from other countries do not enjoy this luxury, and the general rule is that a non-Canadian visitor must have a valid passport and receive a visa from a U.S. consulate or embassy outside of the country, authorizing the individual to enter as a visitor. (There is a streamlined exception for short-term visitors from citizens of certain countries, but this is generally not applicable to Canadian truckers.)

Canadian landed immigrants fall into two different categories. The general rule is that a person in this group requires a passport and a consular-issued visa for entry as a transportation operator in international commerce.

U.S. consulates in Canada which issue business visitor visas are located in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax, Quebec City and Montreal.

Up until now, there has been an exception to that general rule for citizens of Ireland, the UK and more than 50 other Commonwealth countries, including Pakistan, India, Australia, New Zealand and Jamaica. Landed immigrants with underlying citizenship from these countries have been exempt from the visa requirement, allowing much more convenient entry to the U.S. Upon proof of Canadian landed immigrant status and qualifying citizenship, an individual can be admitted to the U.S. as a business visitor without obtaining a consular-issued visa.

However, according to my very reliable sources, the U.S. Department of State has decided to eliminate this exception for UK Commonwealth countries, thereby requiring all Canadian landed immigrants to obtain visitor visas before trying to enter from Canada.

If implemented without changes in consular staffing and appointment procedures, the change could cause a tremendous disruption in the ability of landed immigrant drivers trying to truck on U.S. soil.

I believe a public announcement of this change has been postponed while the State Department contemplates the potential problems and solutions. The consular staff is already overburdened and a new visa requirement for thousands of Canadian landed immigrants will only cause more processing delays. It is possible the decision will be postponed further or even be reversed, but my source indicates it is, “a done deal.”

A visa is a computer-generated document with photo that is affixed to a passport page of the Canadian landed immigrant’s passport. The basic application fee for the visa document is $65, and there is often a second “reciprocity” charge that can range higher than $100, depending on the particular agreement or treaty between the U.S. and the applicant’s country of citizenship.

The duration of the visa can also vary from country to country, with some visas valid for as long as 10 years and others as short as one month. The validity of the visa does not allow the individual to enter the U.S. for the entire visa term, it merely allows multiple short entries as a visitor. (Citizens of some countries are only allowed one entry per visa.)

The INS issues an entry document called an I-94 card to designate the maximum length of stay and keep track of entries and departures. Each individual entry is subject to Customs and Immigration inspection, and entry can be denied, despite the existence of the visa, if the inspecting officer does not believe the person is entering for lawful reasons.

For example, a person with a history of cabotage violations can be denied entry as a visitor, even if he has a previously approved Consular visa. In fact, the inspecting officer has the authority to cancel any given visa if the person is deemed inadmissible to the U.S.

This proposal is just one more example of enhanced border security measures as a consequence of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The new measure is consistent with a goal of enhanced screening for all entrants to the U.S., but it also reflects the reality that a number of known terrorists and suspected terrorists have held primary or dual citizenship from Commonwealth countries.

This is by no means the last measure affecting border crossings along the U.S.-Canada border, and I will continue to use this space to keep you informed on developments.

– Daniel Joyce can be reached at Hirsch and Joyce, Attorneys at Law, at 716-564-2727.

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