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Canada-U.S. Beyond the Border Action Plan proposes immigration-related initiatives

Canada USA border crossingOn February 4, 2011, United States President Barack Obama and Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the United States-Canada joint declaration, Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness. It contemplates a shared approach to security in which both countries work together to address threats within, at, and away from the border, while expediting lawful trade and travel.

On December 7, 2011, Obama and Harper released their Beyond the Border Action Plan which discusses, among other things, their shared vision for perimeter security. The plan proposes several immigration-related initiatives, including:

  1. Using a common approach to screening methodologies and programs, including pre-travel screening and targeting, “board/no-board” perimeter screening and decision processes, and technology
  2. Sharing relevant, reliable and accurate information within the legal and privacy regimes of both countries, such as information contained on biographic and biometric national security watchlists, certain traveller criminal history records and immigration violations
  3. Sharing US-Canada entry data at the land border such that the entry information from one country could constitute the exit information from another through an integrated entry and exit system

Common approach to screening

In connection with this initiative, Canada has agreed to implement two initiatives over the next four years: the Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA), to improve screening of all visa-exempt foreign nationals, and the Interactive Advance Passenger Information (IAPI) to make “board or no-board” decisions on all travellers flying to Canada prior to departure. A brief description of each appears below:

  1. The eTA initiative mirrors the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) currently in place in the US. APIS enables the Department of Homeland Security to collect manifest information for international flights departing from or arriving in the US and to compare this information to relevant watchlists prior to the issuance of a boarding pass. Canadian citizens are subject to APIS so it is reasonable to assume that US citizens will be subject to the eTA once it is implemented.
  2. IAPI mirrors the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which currently applies to foreign nationals who travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Canadian citizens are visa exempt, but not as a result of the VWP, so they are not currently subject to ESTA. It is therefore reasonable to assume that US citizens will not be subject to eTA, once it is implemented.

Sharing information to improve immigration and border determinations

In connection with this initiative, the US and Canada have agreed to:

  1. Share risk assessment/targeting scenarios and enhance real-time notifications regarding the arrival of individuals on US security watchlists
  2. Provide access to information on those who have been removed or who have been refused admission or a visa from either country, as well as those who have been removed from their respective countries for criminal reasons
  3. Implement a systematic and automated biographic information sharing capability by 2013 and biometric information sharing capability by 2014 to reduce identity fraud and enhance screening decisions, and in support of other administrative and enforcement actions

This initiative has raised concerns among privacy advocates, who claim that Canada may be sharing too much information with the US. Although some of this information is already shared between US Customs & Border Protection and the Canadian Border Services Agency, the action plan proposes even greater sharing of information between the two countries, including:

  1. Sharing information concerning who has been removed, denied admission or refused a visa from the other country. This information has not traditionally been shared between the two countries. Access to this level of information could adversely affect an applicant’s ability to enter the destination country even when they have not previously violated the laws of that country. Not all denials of admission or visa refusals are based on valid grounds of inadmissibility but may have the effect of prejudicing an immigration officer’s decision to admit or deny a specific passenger.
  2. Implementing automated biographic information and biometric information sharing capability. This certainly has the potential to violate the privacy rights of Canadian and US citizens. It remains to be seen how much sensitive information will actually be shared once this initiative has been implemented.

Establishing and coordinate entry and exit information systems

In connection with this initiative, Canada and the US have committed to developing a system to exchange biographical information on the entry of travellers, including citizens, permanent residents and third country nationals, such that a record of entry into one country could be considered as a record of an exit from the other. With regard to air travel, Canada has committed to develop (by June 30, 2014) a system to establish exits, similar to that in the US, under which airlines will be required to submit their passenger manifest information on outbound international flights.

The US has been trying to develop and entry-exit control system since it passed Section 110 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. However, it was never able to develop an efficient exit control system to track the departure of foreign nationals.

US Customs has implemented an informal exit control system by requiring most departing passengers to surrender their Form I-94 Departure Records at the time of their exit. (Canadian citizens entering as visitors for business or pleasure are not issued Form I-94s.) However, it is hardly an effective or reliable system. This initiative will eventually allow the United States to track the departure of foreign nationals from the US by outsourcing the task to Canadian border security.

Perhaps sharing the Canadian entry information of foreign nationals departing from the US by land is not a serious concern for Canada, since the Canadian Border Services Agency must inspect these foreign nationals in connection with their application for admission to Canada and since an entry into Canada is clearly evidence of their departure from the US. However, Canada’s commitment to share the exit information of foreign nationals departing from Canada by air on international flights may be going a bit too far.

While there may be a legitimate need for the United States to know when a foreign national has entered Canada (e.g., to verify his or her departure from the US), there is no justification for sharing information on foreign nationals who are departing Canada for a destination other than the US. If they are in Canada and are not travelling to the United States, there appears to be no legitimate reason why the US would need this information.


Although some of the above initiatives are potentially controversial (in some cases, potentially unjustifiable), it is still only an action plan. None of the immigration-related initiatives described in the plan have been implemented yet and it may be some time before this occurs. It will be interesting to see how Canada and the United States ultimately implement these initiatives in the future.

Henry J. Chang
Blaney McMurtry LLP

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Henry J. Chang, Dentons LLP

Corporate immigration lawyer at Dentons LLP
Henry J. Chang is a partner in the firm’s Employment and Labor Group. He currently practices in the areas of Canadian and United States business immigration law, international business law, and cannabis law. Read more
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2 thoughts on “Canada-U.S. Beyond the Border Action Plan proposes immigration-related initiatives
  • It is not that difficult for a Canadian citizen engineer or geologist to obtain a work permit under the NAFTA. Whether the proposed activity in the U.S. really is considered work will require a more detailed analysis. However, even in cases where a work permit is required, one is easily available for those professions.

  • frank hill says:

    Why is it that Canadian mining engineers or geologists get stopped or turned back at the border when they go and look at a property to do a 43101 report in the USA? The going rate was $600 a day that was being charged; now one has to go to an American engineer and he may want $1200 a day. There is a shortage now of engineers and many Canadian professionals do not want to cross into the USA so now take jobs in other countries. How will the govt adjust this? They will not and do not care.