Uncertainty about visa requirements worries fleets
February 1, 2003
TORONTO, Ont. - Carriers who in recent weeks feared that U.S.-bound trucks driven by landed-immigrant drivers without visas may grind to a halt at the Windsor-Detroit border can relax, at least for no...
GOOD TO GO: Rumors that landed-immigrant drivers would need visas to cross the Windsor-Detroit border by Feb. 1 had some carriers worried about their fleets grinding to a halt.
TORONTO, Ont. – Carriers who in recent weeks feared that U.S.-bound trucks driven by landed-immigrant drivers without visas may grind to a halt at the Windsor-Detroit border can relax, at least for now.
Contrary to rumors that were flying through the Ontario trucking industry just prior to Christmas, no deadline has been established that requires drivers who are landed immigrants from Commonwealth countries to have a visa in order to get through the U.S. border crossing at Windsor-Detroit. Rumors were rampant that a deadline of Dec. 19 and then of Feb. 1 had been set.
Phil Hoffman, a spokesperson in the Public Affairs Office at the U.S. Consulate in Toronto, affirms that there is no deadline. “Nobody knows (when visas will be required). That’s the truth,” he says.
When asked about the visa situation in a question-and-answer session following a keynote address at a Canada-U.S. BorderNet Alliance presentation about a new business-to-business, Web-based information center, U.S. Consul General Antoinette Marwitz confirmed the visa requirement is only “a proposal that’s not yet in effect.”
Hoffman said there would be an announcement made 45 days in advance of any deadline for visa requirements. “Forty-five days was always the plan,” he says.
“Once it’s in effect we’ll put it on our Web site,” he added. The U.S. Consulate in Toronto is the only one in Canada with a Web site.
Both Highland Transport and Bruce R. Smith Ltd. told Truck News they were getting reports back from some drivers that they had been handed a piece of paper by U.S. Customs officials at Windsor-Detroit saying that they would soon need visas to cross the border.
Hoffman says the U.S. Toronto Consulate had heard the same information – that a draft announcement about the eventual need for visas reached the hands of local U.S. Customs officials and was being handed out when it shouldn’t have been. “We contacted Detroit and told them not to do that,” he says.
But the reports from drivers and rumors about impending visa deadlines prompted panic and at least one carrier to take no chances on having its trucks come to a dead stop at the Windsor-Detroit border over visa issues.
“We’re saying we can’t hire people without visas,” Wilf Trivett, director of safety and compliance at Highland Transport Inc., told Truck News. “When you consider lineups that are already happening at the borders, we can’t have that; we can’t have delays happening because of visas.”
Bill Sinden, director of safety at Bruce R. Smith Ltd., told Truck News that establishing a policy similar to that of Highland Transport was “something we’re probably going to have to look at.”
Currently, Sinden says, his company only screens drivers sent by agencies “to weed out potential problems,” and focuses on past records and driving history.
In an interview shortly before Christmas, Trivett said Highland was advising its affected drivers to use the Christmas break to apply for visas. “We don’t know what they’re going to do, but that’s our advice.”
Sinden said that his company had not yet advised landed immigrant drivers to apply for visas.
Although no visa deadline is imminent, the enactment of Homeland Security legislation in the U.S. last Nov. 25 makes it almost certain that landed immigrant drivers will eventually need visas to get their loads across the U.S. border.
“We do believe it will happen…and when it does the Toronto Consulate will be deluged with applications. My advice is for any landed immigrant to apply for the visitor visa now if the Consulate will accept the application,” says Daniel Joyce, a Buffalo, N.Y., immigration lawyer and Truck News columnist on border affairs.
Trucking companies are free to hedge their bets. Hoffman says the U.S. Consulate in Toronto is accepting visa applications, and says the Consulate will be able to handle a flood of applications when the time comes. “We’re geared up to handle it. We’ve hired extra staff,” he says.
So far, landed immigrants in Canada who are British subjects, citizens of a Commonwealth country, or citizens of Ireland don’t need to obtain a visa in advance to enter the U.S. As well, alien residents in Canada or Bermuda who have “a common nationality” with Canadian citizens or British Overseas Territories in Bermuda don’t need a passport or a visa to enter the United States.
But some of the countries on the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) list of Commonwealth countries are also on a list of countries considered to have links to terrorism. There are currently 19 “special registration” countries on the U.S. government’s watch list including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
“Citizens of Pakistan will have more of a delay in (visa) processing because Pakistan is one of the ‘countries of concern’ for terrorism. The advice is to apply early is doubly true for citizens of such countries. The list seems to change daily, but I would also be concerned about Malaysia, Singapore, Kenya, Nigeria and other countries that have had links to terrorists or terrorism,” Joyce says.
Under the U.S. National Security Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program, people born in these countries have to submit to fingerprinting and photographing when entering the U.S.
Canadian citizens from these countries were originally included when the NSEERS program was launched last Sept. 11.
But an outcry from the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) that the program could affect thousands of immigrant truck drivers with dual citizenship resulted in U.S. officials assuring the Canadian government that Canadian citizens won’t be required to register at the border just because of their country of birth.
Marwitz says the still-proposed rule that would require Commonwealth immigrants to have a valid passport and a visa to enter the U.S. means they’d also be subject to fingerprinting and registration under NSEERS, and “The implications of this are extraordinary.”
She used the example of a Pakistani landed-immigrant driver crossing the border on runs “three to four times a week,” explaining that he’d have to be fingerprinted every time.
“We’re working on ways to eliminate that request, making a special waiver. We haven’t got there yet. But since we don’t have the regulations in place, we’re having a difficult time convincing people in Washington that this program is necessary.”
The good news for Canada, Marwitz emphasized, is that the new regulations have been delayed “because we’re trying to sort out these types of issues.”
Should you choose to apply for a visa anyway, the U.S. government has made it easy – but not free.Visa applicants are charged a US$10 nonrefundable fee to apply for a visa interview online through the National Visa Reservation Appointment System (NVARS) at www.nvars.com. You can also apply by phone – at $2 per minute on a 900-number service, or at $1.50 per minute on an 888 number set up for Canadians who can’t use the 900 service because of call blocking.
In addition to the cost of applying for a visa interview, there are potential travel cost and off-the-road factors for both company drivers and owner/operators.
That’s because the visa application process may require going through a personal interview at a U.S. consulate or the U.S. embassy in Ottawa.
Canadians have to apply for a visa appointment in their particular consular district.
But, explains Hoffman, landed immigrants who are considered “low risk,” can apply for and receive a visa by mail without an interview at least in the Toronto consular district, which covers all of Ontario.
“These would be landed immigrants who’ve been in Canada a long time, have a steady job, and have travelled to the U.S. before.”
Hoffman notes that he can’t speak for other U.S. consulates and how they are handling the visa application process.
There’s no guarantee about how long the process will take. The official word is that the application process could take up to 60 days.
Where to go:
Making visa appointments and finding visitor visa information
The U.S. Consulates in Canada do not provide v
isa information. It can be obtained on the Internet, or by phone.
Information about the visa application process can be found at the following web sites:
Visa appointment reservations can be made online, or by phone.
National Visa Appointment Reservation System (www.nvars.com)