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The Cost of Convenience – Accomodating Businesses vs. Facilitating Fraud

Late last month, Canada’s Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration released a report on Canada’s temporary resident visa system.  The 54-page report made a number of key recommendations.  While some of the recommendations were administrative in nature, some recommendations, if adopted, could result in changes that would better facilitate international business travel to Canada.  For businesspeople, the most significant recommendations are the following: 

Recommendation 3:  That the Government of Canada explore the feasibility of an alternative fee structure for an express visa service that is timely and achieves business commerce needs. 

An expedited fee for business visitor visas, would be of great use to businesses. 

Currently, the US has what they call “premium processing” for  variety of US visas.  While these visas are not offered for all US non-immigrant categories, for a number of temporary work categories in the US, individuals can pay a premium processing fee and get their applications processed within a few weeks. 

Because some overseas visa posts take weeks or even months to process temporary resident visas, study permits, or work permits, the introduction of an expedited fee where applications are sent to officers dedicated to processing expedited applications would be welcome.  This way, businesses and individuals who require quick service can obtain visas faster.  As it was observed in the report, this process would be similar to the expedited process offered to Canadians who need to obtain passports quickly. 

Recommendation 11:  That the Government of Canada consider establishing a list of countries whose nationals may be eligible for expedited visitor and student visas. That it also establish an appropriate fee structure that would better recover the costs of processing applications, including those for expedited visitor visas. 

This recommendation is also welcome.  In fact, Canada already does something similar. 

For instance, citizens of the US do not need to apply for visitor or student visas before coming to Canada.  These individuals can arrive at a Canada border crossing and make an application for a student or visitor visa upon entry and have one granted (if they qualify).  As well, citizens of a number of other countries do not need visas to come to Canada.  If an expanded list of countries where travellers are at low-risk can be developed, and if these individuals are allowed to make applications at border crossings, then visa posts abroad could be freed up to deal with more complicated and potentially problematic cases. 

Recommendation 12:  That the Government of Canada establish a program that streamlines applications from foreign nationals who have already been screened by the United States and examine the feasibility to include those screened by the European Union. 

While there may be some concern about whether US and EU screening will be good enough for Canada, for the most part, screening done by these countries would likely be up to Canadian standards.  While there may be the need to have spot checks, serious thought should be given to relying on US and EU screening to facilitate low-risk travellers’ entries into Canada. 

Appealing a visa refusal. Should a system be put in place? 

An interesting discussion in the report was whether there should be an appeal process for a refused visa.  Currently, if an individual is refused a temporary resident visa, work permit, or study permit, that individual does not have the ability to appeal the decision but must take the decision to federal court for a judicial review.  The judicial review process can take months and is expensive and time-consuming.  Not only is it expensive and time-consuming for the individual but it takes up court time that could be devoted to more pressing matters. 

According to the report, Citizenship and Immigration study of appeal processes in other countries found that these processes were lengthy and expensive.  As two of the alternatives is to simply reapply for another visa or to create an expanded administrative review of refused applications, the Committee did not make a recommendation on an appeal process. 

A template letter of invitation. This is a good suggestion 

In addition to the Committee report, there were minority reports submitted by both the NDP and Liberal parties.  One of the interesting recommendations for businesses from the NDP is a recommendation that the government create a template letter of invitation for use of inviters inviting foreign nationals to visit Canada.  

The creation of a template letter of invitation would be a welcome.  Currently, Citizenship and Immigration Canada sets out some of the criteria that should be put in these letters but does not require a specific form to be completed. If this recommendation is accepted, assessment of visas could be sped up as custom-made letters of invitation are less efficient for officers to review.  If the letter of invitation was put in an specific format, officers would know what to look. This could speed up the process.  In addition, from the point of view of the inviter or immigration applicant, this would also allow them to more clearly understand what is expected of them in the immigration process. 

Should Mexico be removed from the list of countries whose nationals need visas to come to Canada 

The Liberal party’s report also contains some interesting recommendations. 

One of their recommendations is to re-examine the decision to remove Mexico from the visa-exemption list.  As a NAFTA partner, it is important that visits from Mexican citizens be facilitated to help increase trade between Canada and Mexico.  It would be welcome for the government to allow Mexicans to come to Canada without the imposition of visa requirements. 

Do we devote enough resources to the immigration system 

Another interesting recommendation made by the Liberal party that government should invest necessary resources to reduce waiting times for temporary resident visas.  Because the ability to move people across borders is central to international business investment, increasing the resources to decrease wait times is important.  If the government, as is proposed in the main report, sets out an expedited processing fee, these funds could be used to fund further resources to reduce waiting times. 

What should Canada do about visa fraud? 

Another interesting observation from the report was the revelations of fraud in the temporary resident visa system.  In testimony given to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, a number of departmental officials referenced the prevalence of fake documents such as bank statements, false letters of employment, fraudulent letters of acceptance from Canadian schools, invitations from non-existent Canadians, fraudulent funeral home letters for funerals that are not actually taking place, and fraudulent language test results, academic records, reference letters, and identity documents.  As a result, it is easy to see how visa officers can become jaded when assessing any application as totally legitimate applications will be seen through this lens.  As the report mentioned, fraud has been significantly discovered as a result of a five-country information sharing conference with the US, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.

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About Reis Pagtakhan

Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration law partner with MLT Aikins LLP. His extensive experience includes assisting businesses obtain temporary entry to Canada and permanent residency for their executives, employees and contractors from all over the world. Reis has lectured on and written papers on immigration law for the Law Society of Manitoba, the Manitoba Bar Association, the Human Resources Management Association of Manitoba, the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association, and the Community Legal Education Association of Manitoba. He has presented position papers before the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Immigration Department officials and Manitoba Labour and Immigration. He has written articles on immigration for the CBC, the Winnipeg Free Press, trade, industry and ethnic publications.

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