This fall, people from a list of 11 countries will be required to submit fingerprint and photo documentation when applying for Canadian visitor, student, or work visas. The change also requires applicants to pay an extra fee to the sum of $85 for the collection of their personal data, which is to be provided at various locations where the Canadian government has contracted third-parties to gather biometric information.
The list of countries, as laid out by the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, totals at 30. Approximately 20% of the 300,000 people requiring visas (foreign workers, students, visitors) must provide their fingerprints and photos within the first year. The elderly, children and diplomats are exempt from this.
The new conditions are already a reality for visitors from Haiti, Jamaica, and Colombia. Effective October 23rd of this year, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tunisia, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Libya, Eritrea, Algeria, Sudan and South Sudan will be subject to the same process. In addition, by December 11th, visa applicants from Yemen, Vietnam, Syria, Sri Lanka, the Palestinian territory, Pakistan, Lebanon, Laos, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Cambodia, Burma (Myanmar), Bangladesh and Afghanistan will also submit biometrics as part of their files.
The new conditions have thus been described as part of an effort to further secure the border and better manage entry into Canada. “Biometrics has proven to be one of the most effective ways to identify individuals entering the country,” stated Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney. “By providing immigration officials with greater certainty, biometrics will facilitate legitimate travel to Canada.” Officials such as Kenney describe the choice to place certain countries on the list as a one informed by rates of visa refusal, insufficient documentation of nationals, removal orders, refugee claims, and cases of travel under fraudulent identity. Also of consideration are Canada’s foreign policy and trade objectives. “Our doors are open to legitimate travellers and, through the use of biometrics, we will also be able to protect the safety and security of Canadians,” Kenney reassured.
However, changes have proven difficult to implement in light of the Canadian government’s ongoing labour dispute with its striking foreign affairs officers. As many officers are directly involved in visa applications, delays in processing appear inevitable. The Public Service Labour Relations Board ruled that the government had negotiated with strikers in bad faith. Ottawa has appealed the decision at the federal court, ensuring that the last word has not yet been spoken.
For people requiring visas in order to visit, work and study in Canada, the current climate of politics and policy change has meant that applications land somewhere between changing rules and a lack of services. The labour dispute and the biometric requirements have presented two new hurdles which together incite confusion. Some applicants are in mid-process while the rules are changing, while still others are uncertain about submitting new data while regulations are being modified and application processing remains stalled by conflict.
Until the predicament is resolved, Canada will cease to reap the full benefit of welcoming many foreign professionals and travelers as it has done in the past. Hopefully, delays will be short-lived and the visa process may soon function in a manner that better serves Canadians, who are fortunate to receive a global diversity of applications.