Backgrounder — Establishing Biometric Requirements in Canada’s Temporary Resident Immigration Program

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is leading the Temporary Resident Biometrics Project, announced in the 2008 Budget, in partnership with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

Verifying a person’s identity is vital to decisions made by Canadian visa officers abroad and border services officers at Canadian ports of entry. An increase in application volumes, changing travel patterns, and a growing prevalence and sophistication in identity fraud pose significant challenges to maintaining the integrity of Canada’s immigration system.

The Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, which received Royal Assent on June 28, 2012, allows the government to require biometric information from certain applicants as part of the temporary resident visa, and study and work permit application processes.

Using biometrics will strengthen Canada’s immigration program as it will provide visa officers with greater certainty in screening applicants and will allow a person’s identity to be more readily confirmed upon arrival. Accordingly, biometrics will help facilitate the travel of legitimate visitors to Canada. At the same time, it will protect the safety and security of Canadians by helping prevent inadmissible individuals from entering the country.

In 2013, the Government of Canada will introduce the use of biometrics into Canada’s temporary resident immigration program.

Proposed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations outline to whom the biometric requirement would apply, how biometric information would be collected, the biometric fee, and how biometric information could be used and disclosed for law enforcement purposes.

The regulatory changes to introduce biometric requirements into Canada’s temporary resident immigration program have been published in the Canada Gazette Part I for a 30‑day comment period.

Prescribed foreign nationals

Starting in Fall 2013, in accordance with the proposed regulations, CIC would begin rolling out a new requirement for temporary resident applicants (visitors, students and temporary workers) to provide their fingerprints and photograph when applying for a temporary resident visa, work permit, or study permit.

The new requirement would be phased in over several months. In accordance with the proposed regulations, the following are the dates when mandatory collection of biometric information is scheduled to begin:

  • September 2, 2013:  Mandatory collection will begin for nationals of the following countries: Colombia, Haiti, Jamaica
  • October 15, 2013:  Mandatory collection will begin for nationals of the following countries: Albania, Algeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia
  • December 7, 2013:  Mandatory collection will begin for nationals of the following countries and territory: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Laos, Lebanon, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Sri Lanka, Syria, Vietnam, Yemen

The proposed dates are subject to change before the regulations are finalized.

The proposed regulations set out those who would be exempt from the biometric requirement, including children, the elderly, and government officials and their family members travelling to Canada on official business. The proposal to exempt these categories is in line with CIC’s policy and practices and is similar to that of other countries using biometrics in their immigration or border management programs.

It is important to note that Canadian citizens and permanent residents will not be required to submit biometrics to enter the country.

We expect approximately 300,000 applicants will be subject to this requirement in the first full year of the program.

Collecting biometric information

As proposed in the regulations, the introduction of biometrics would be phased in over several months. This would allow CIC to put in place a global service delivery network for the collection of biometrics through the establishment of Visa Application Centres and other biometric collection service points.

Prescribed foreign nationals would need to appear in person at one of these biometric collection points of service when they apply for a visitor’s visa, work permit or study permit, and to provide their fingerprints and have their digital photograph taken.

Most applicants would provide their biometric information at a Visa Application Centre equipped with biometric enrolment services. If an applicant is present in a country where such a centre is not available but there is a Canadian visa office, the applicant would provide their fingerprints and photograph at the visa office. Applicants would also be able to provide their biometric information at biometric collection points throughout the United States.

The biometric information will be valid for the duration of the visa. Where possible, applicants will be encouraged to apply for a multiple-entry visa. Information about this visa is available on CIC’s website.

CIC will indicate on its website which biometric collection service points will be available.

When a traveller arrives at a Canadian port of entry, a border services officer will use the digital photo to verify that the visa holder is the same person to whom the visa was issued. Fingerprints will only be verified at the discretion of the border services officer.

Biometric fee

In addition to the existing temporary resident visa, work permit and study permit fees, a new fee of $85 CAD to register biometric information is planned.

A maximum biometric fee of $170 would be designated for family members applying together for a temporary resident visa, and $255 for performing artists and their staff applying together for a work permit.

As per the proposed regulatory changes, certain applicants would also be exempt from paying the fee, including certain transit visa applicants, and travellers holding a diplomatic or official passport.

The proposed biometric fee is comparable with the fees of Canada’s international partners, such as the U.S. and U.K.

Use and disclosure of biometric information

The proposed regulations allow for biometric and related biographic information collected for immigration purposes to be used or disclosed for domestic law enforcement purposes, while ensuring that the information is used and shared in compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Privacy Act.

The RCMP would be authorized to use and disclose to Canadian law enforcement agencies biometric and limited biographic information, including an individual’s name, date of birth and gender, collected under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) to establish or verify the identity of persons in some circumstances.

Specifically, when a fingerprint collected by the RCMP or submitted to the RCMP by another domestic law enforcement agency matches a fingerprint collected under the IRPA, the RCMP would be authorized to use or disclose the information for the purpose of:

  • establishing or verifying the identity of a person in order to prevent, investigate or prosecute an offence under a Canadian federal or provincial law;
  • establishing or verifying the identity of a person whose identity cannot be established or verified because of their death or any other physical or mental condition.

For example, access to identity‑related information collected under the IRPA could help in cases where unidentified fingerprints are found at a crime scene or where assistance is needed in identifying victims.

Immigration information sharing

Canada is a member of the Five Country Conference (FCC), a forum for immigration and border security, which also includes Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The FCC High Value Data Sharing (HVDS) Protocol is an initiative for sharing biometric information between the FCC member countries for immigration purposes. To date, immigration information sharing among FCC countries has resulted in

  • Canada revoking the refugee status of a man whom British records proved to be an American citizen.
  • Australia identifying, on the basis of the immigration records of other countries, Pakistani citizens who claimed to be Afghan citizens.
  • The UK returning a wanted rapist who pretended to be a Somali asylum seeker to Australia. He subsequently pleaded guilty.
  • The UK taking action against an asylum seeker who used nine different identities and six different documents across the FCC countries.

Building on this, Canada and the U.S. committed to increase immigration information sharing as part of the 2011 Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness Action Plan, signed by Prime Minister Harper and President Obama. In 2014, both countries will begin to systematically share biometric information, in the form of fingerprints, from third-country nationals from certain countries who are temporary resident visa, work permit or study permit applicants. Enhanced information sharing promotes security and border efficiency by establishing and verifying the identities of foreign nationals, and identifying those who are inadmissible at the earliest opportunity.

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