Temporary Resident Biometrics Project

Stakeholder Engagement Summary Report

Fiscal Year 2011-2012

Table of Contents


Introduction

Background

In 2009, the Biometrics Project Office at Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) initiated consultations with a number of stakeholders with mandates related to immigration, facilitation of trade, tourism, foreign students, or to security and privacy. This early stakeholder input and feedback, along with a 2010 meeting with the Department of Public Safety’s Cross-Cultural Round Table on Security (CCRS), was used to inform the planning phase of the Temporary Resident Biometrics Project (TRBP).

The 2011-12 stakeholder engagement provided stakeholders with an update on the status of the TRBP, including changes to the project scope, and obtaining input and feedback on operational and implementation topics and issues for the execution phase of the project.

Purpose

The purpose of this report is to summarize the feedback received from various stakeholders with whom CIC met in 2011-12 regarding the introduction of biometrics into Canada’s temporary resident (TR) program, and to share what was learned during the stakeholder consultations with government officials responsible for planning the implementation of this initiative. The report also includes answers to questions raised by stakeholders during consultations, and outlines follow-up activities that CIC will take in response to this feedback.

The report will be shared with the stakeholders who participated in the consultations in 2011-12.

Method

Stakeholder engagement activities in 2011-12 consisted of face-to-face meetings with non-governmental organizations, crown corporations, associations and advisory bodies that have an interest in helping visitors, international students or foreign workers come to Canada, or that have an interest in Canadian immigration policy, law and security.

A standard presentation was developed specifically for the 2011-12 stakeholder engagement, and was presented at each meeting. The presentation focused on the reasons for and benefits of biometrics use, project scope, service delivery channels and procedures for providing biometrics, and privacy safeguards.

Participants were also provided with CIC fact sheets explaining how biometrics will work, privacy and protection of personal information, service delivery channels for biometric collection, and international use of biometrics.

The following organizations were consulted as part of the 2011-12 engagement:

Organization
Mandate
Cross Cultural Roundtable on Security
Engage Canadians and the Government of Canada in a long-term dialogue on matters related to national security.
Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants
Promote and protect the practice of all Canadian immigration consultants and support continuous professional development and improvement in all areas of immigration practice.
Tourism Industry Association of Canada
Represent tourism interests at the national level, and promote and support policies, programs and activities that will benefit the sector's growth and development.
Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
Provide services to member universities in areas of public policy and advocacy communications, research and information-sharing scholarships and international programs.
Centre for Immigration Policy Reform
Advocate for changes to Canada’s immigration policies
Construction Sector Council
Provide info to industry and foreign nationals about the temporary foreign worker program
Foreign Agricultural  Resources Management Services
Facilitate and coordinate the processing of requests for foreign seasonal agricultural workers and perform an administrative role to the Caribbean and Mexican Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program.
Canadian Bar Association – National Immigration Section (B.C. and Ontario representatives)
Represent the legal profession nationally and internationally; improve and promote the knowledge, skills, ethical standards and well-being of members of the legal profession.
Canadian Tourism Commission
Advertise and market Canada in nine countries around the world; provide information to and support a cooperative relationship between the private sector and the governments of Canada, the provinces and the territories with respect to Canadian tourism.
Fraser Institute
Measure, study, and communicate the impact of competitive markets and government interventions on the welfare of individuals.
Canadian Association of Tour Operators
Represent companies operating tour programs and packages from Canada to international destinations, trans-border as well as overseas.
Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Promote respect for and observance of fundamental human rights and civil liberties through research, public education and advocacy.
Jonview Canada
Provide a full range of travel products and services to Tour Operators around the world.

Stakeholder Feedback

General Reactions

Most stakeholders were generally supportive of the Government of Canada using biometrics as an identity screening tool in the immigration program.

Some stakeholders suggested that the project scope should be expanded to encompass all temporary resident applicants, as well as all permanent resident applicants. Other stakeholders were concerned that limiting biometric requirements to certain countries could be perceived as discriminatory, and recommended that either implementation be delayed until universal roll-out becomes possible or that factors that govern the selection of the affected nationalities be communicated in a transparent manner.

The Tourism sector was generally supportive of the Government of Canada’s use of biometrics, as they believe this is a means of facilitating legitimate visitor travel to Canada. Their primary interest is in ensuring that Canadian visa application processes – including fees and requirements – do not deter tourists from choosing Canada for their vacation. They are very supportive of the expansion of Visa Application Centre (VAC) services.

Other stakeholders in the policy and legal sectors offered more neutral opinions. While not weighing in specifically on the benefits or drawbacks of the government collecting biometrics for identity screening purposes, they did provide useful feedback on client service, privacy and security issues involved in the collection, enrolment, use and retention of personal information.

In general, stakeholders with an interest in temporary workers and international students were less supportive of biometrics collection for TR applicants. Some were concerned that additional costs and travel time related to biometric requirements might dissuade students and agricultural workers from coming to Canada. These stakeholders also voiced concerns that the limited project scope could be seen as stigmatizing sub-groups of workers and students based on nationality.

Privacy and Security

Information Sharing

While it was made clear to stakeholders that the scope of the TRBP does not include information sharing, a number of stakeholders raised questions and concerns about information sharing under the Canada-U.S. Action Plan on Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness. Some stakeholders involved in the policy and legal sectors were particularly apprehensive about the impact of automated information-sharing with the U.S., suggesting that U.S. legislation could expand the use of information provided by Canada beyond what CIC would allow and could control. They were also concerned that CIC may deny entry of a foreign national into Canada if that person is deemed a risk by the U.S.

Conversely, others within the policy and legal sectors were quite supportive of information sharing under the Canada-U.S. Action Plan, particularly where the intended result is to prevent people with criminal records from entering Canada. These stakeholders felt that the lack of fingerprint checks against foreign criminal databases was a significant gap and were concerned that current criminal background screening for student visa applicants is inadequate.

Secondary use of Information

Stakeholders also raised concerns and questions on the secondary use of information within Canada. For example, concerns were expressed to CIC about police agencies having routine access to immigration status information because this could dissuade people in need from accessing police protection. One stakeholder expressed interest in learning more about which tombstone data is shared with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)as well as who makes the decision about what data will be shared, and offered their assistance in reviewing the disclosure notice that applicants will be required to sign.

Client Recourse

A number of stakeholders voiced concern about the possibility of fingerprint matching errors. They stressed that identity errors are often difficult to correct and that recourse processes, particularly in the U.S., are not effective. Given their expertise in this area, one stakeholder offered to review and provide guidance on the recourse process being developed at CIC.

Visa Application Centres

General Reactions

Following CIC’s briefing on changes to the Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) application process, many stakeholders had questions about VACs. Visa Application Centres are managed by private companies or international organizations and are authorized by the Government of Canada, under a contract or formal agreement, to provide services to applicants to facilitate the submission of visa applications. The tourism sector was particularly supportive of CIC using VACs to collect biometrics as they felt this would be a more efficient and effective means of facilitating the processing of visa applications. For example, stakeholders indicated that the use of VACs may make it more likely travellers will get a visa by decreasing instances of rejection due to incomplete application forms. It was further recommended to CIC that Canada add more VACs so that access to biometric service does not become a barrier to travel.

Governance and Oversight

A number of questions and concerns were raised by stakeholders with respect to VAC governance and oversight mechanisms. Some stakeholders felt there was potential for VAC staff to experience conflicts of interest, as well as situations where VAC staff may provide advice and/or services beyond their scope of responsibility.

Various stakeholders from the policy and legal sectors wanted to ensure that client data would be collected and transmitted securely and that safeguards would be in place to prevent VACs from retaining applicant data. Further details were requested from CIC on the architecture of the biometric collection technology, as well as the type of training provided for VAC staff in collecting fingerprints.

Policy and Operational Considerations

During engagement sessions, stakeholders spoke about the importance of reducing barriers for TR applicants to optimize the expected benefits from the introduction of biometrics and the expansion of the VAC network.

Visa Application Requirements and Processing Time

Some tourism sector stakeholders expressed interest in potential trade-offs and efficiencies resulting from biometric collection, and questioned if application requirements would be simplified and documentation requirements decreased with the addition of biometric screening, leading to faster processing. Some of these stakeholders also felt that because biometrics will help confirm identity with greater confidence, acceptance rates may increase.

Other stakeholders felt that new biometric requirements would increase TR application processing times and were concerned with the amount of time it would take for the RCMP to conduct fingerprint checks and relay this information back to CIC. Stakeholders working with foreign workers and international students were particularly concerned that biometric requirements would result in longer visa processing times, impede the timely arrival of students and workers, and create further barriers for these groups.

Multiple-entry Visas

One tourism sector stakeholder raised the issue that, while Canada’s requirements for biometrics, in-person appearance, and a fee will be on par with U.S. visitor requirements, the U.S. honours the full term of multiple-entry visas even if the term extends beyond the expiry date of the passport. This difference can be enough to persuade some travellers to vacation in the U.S. instead of Canada.

In-person Requirements and VAC accessibility

Some stakeholders expressed concern with the requirement that TRV applicants need to provide their biometrics in person each time they apply, particularly in the case of students and workers who wish to travel abroad and return to Canada. Currently, most students and workers living in Canada who wish to travel abroad will apply for a TRV by mail to the U.S. However, with new in-person requirements for biometric collection, applicants will need to travel to the U.S. to visit a biometric enrolment location to complete their application. If these travellers have difficulty obtaining a visa to enter the U.S., they may have to re-apply at the same visa office where they obtained their initial visa.

Fees

A number of organizations raised questions about a biometric fee. Some stakeholders working with foreign workers and international students indicated that any additional costs related to travel and biometric collection might dissuade these applicant groups in particular from coming to Canada.

Marketing Considerations

In general, tourism sector stakeholders framed the introduction of biometrics in Canada’s immigration program as a marketing challenge. They stressed the need to identify and promote the benefits of biometric screening for applicants and encouraged CIC to align its biometric requirements and standards with those of other countries, so Canada does not lose any status as a destination of choice in a competitive market.

Emerging tourism markets—such as China, Mexico, Brazil and India—were emphasized as an important factor to Canada’s economic growth because the number of visitors from developed markets—such as the U.S. and United Kingdom (UK)—is in decline. It was also pointed out that tourists perceive Canada as a high-cost country to visit. This, coupled with negative perceptions of Canada’s visa application processes, may deter travellers from choosing to come to Canada. CIC was encouraged to explore where the introduction of biometrics could be balanced with customer service improvements to increase the competiveness of Canada as a tourist destination.

One tourism stakeholder suggested that communications emphasize the benefits of multiple-entry visas and the reduction of documentation requirements for visa renewals, and offered to support CIC’s deeper engagement with tourism industry stakeholders both in-market (in the source countries) and in Canada.

Another tourism stakeholder recommended that CIC research biometric standards and requirements of the top ten travel destinations to understand how Canada deviates from other competitive markets. They suggested that CIC determine if Canadian air carriers offer flight services from countries that will be affected by biometrics and assess the potential impact on these carriers and / or receiving airport authorities if there were a drop in visitor travel. Within this context, they recommended CIC meet with the National Airline Coalition, Transat, UK Experience and the Hotel Association of Canada.

CIC Follow-Up

Stakeholder Frequently Asked Questions

1. Will the visitors, students and workers who will be required to give their biometric data need to have their fingerprints and photo taken each time they apply for a visa or permit?

Yes. Starting in 2013, foreign nationals from the countries and territories prescribed in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations will need to have their fingerprints and photos taken each time they apply for a visitor visa or study or work permit.

It is important for CIC to establish identity each time an applicant applies for a visa. Taking biometric data every time an applicant applies for a visa will allow the visa officer to confirm an applicant’s identity by matching their fingerprints to their previous biometric records.

Visa officers will be able to establish a repeat applicant’s identity quickly, making it easier to travel to Canada.

2. Will the visitors, students and workers who will be required to give their biometric data need to wait longer to get a visitor visa, study permit or work permit?

Processing times will not increase as a result of the introduction of biometric data collection because biometric checks will occur in parallel with existing processing steps. From the applicant’s perspective, the new requirement to appear in person at a Visa Application Centre to have fingerprints and a photo taken may add to the time it would normally take to prepare and submit a visa application.

Applicants will have access to biometrics collection services in 65 countries where they can have their fingerprints and photo taken. These locations include up to 43 Visa Application Centres which are where the majority of applicants will provide their biometrics.

CIC advises applicants to plan ahead to take into account this new requirement when applying for a visitor visa, study permit or work permit, especially for those who may need to travel to get to a Visa Application Centre.

Over time, the use of fingerprints and photos will make coming to Canada easier by providing a reliable tool to confirm a visitor’s, student’s or worker’s identity.

3. Will the visitors, students and workers who will be required to give their biometrics need to pay more for a visa, study permit or work permit?

Citizenship and Immigration Canada is considering a fee to partially recover the cost of collecting and using fingerprints and photos. If introduced, the fee would be kept competitive with what other countries charge for visa services.

4. Why is CIC only taking fingerprints and photos from certain visitors, students and workers, and which of them will be affected?

The current plan will require visitors, students and workers from certain visa-required countries and territories to have their fingerprints and photo taken at a visa application centre overseas when they apply for a visa, or permit.

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations will set out the countries and territories whose nationals will need to have their fingerprints and photos taken.

The selection of countries and territories will be based on multiple factors including immigration patterns, such as temporary resident visa refusals, removals and refugee claims; Canadian foreign and trade policy objectives; and economic and tourism interests.

The Government of Canada may consider steps for a broader use of biometric identity screening in the future.

5. What are the privacy risks of using biometric information?

The privacy risks for biometrics are similar to those of any personal information. These include unlawful collection, inconsistent use, unauthorized disclosure, unidentified retention, unplanned disposition and insufficient safeguards.

Privacy protection is a primary consideration for the Government of Canada. Storage and handling of fingerprints and photographs and associated biographic data will conform to Government of Canada security and privacy standards. For example, technological safeguards will be put in place to ensure that applicant information is collected, and transmitted securely, by using, for example, encryption.

CIC is also developing policies to limit the collection, use, disclosure and retention of biometric information. Policies will address issues such as what information CIC will collect, how CIC will use the information, and how long CIC will keep the information. These policies will respect the Privacy Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

CIC is also working closely with the Privacy Commissioner and her office to ensure adequate privacy protection safeguards are in place to protect applicants’ personal data.

6. What security and privacy safeguards will be in place at Visa Application Centres to protect applicant information?

Visa Application Centres are managed by private companies or international organizations and are authorized by the Government of Canada, under a contract or formal agreement, to provide services to applicants to facilitate the submission of visa applications. CIC will be holding these Visa Application Centres accountable through the contract(s) for delivering quality services in a way that meets government privacy and security requirements. For example, Visa Application Centres will be required to security screen employees, provide safe and secure facilities, and follow government directed procedures so that applicants and their personal information are protected.

CIC will also ensure that technological safeguards, such as encryption and credential management systems, are in place so that applicant information is collected, stored and transmitted to CIC securely. This will mean that an applicant’s personal information is collected, stored and transmitted in a way that will prevent it from being accessed, copied, or intercepted by anyone who does not have the proper authority.

7. What is the relationship between this initiative and information sharing with the US?

The Temporary Resident Biometrics Project is responsible for introducing biometric screening into the temporary resident program and existed prior to the 2011 Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness Action Plan where Canada has committed to systematically exchange biometric information on visitor visa applicants with the U.S., beginning in 2014. The TRBP will contribute to the Action Plan by providing the technology platform for the systematic exchange of information with the U.S. to begin in 2014.

8. What personal information will be shared with the RCMP and other Canadian law enforcement agencies?

With the introduction of biometrics identity screening in Canada’s temporary resident program, CIC will share limited tombstone data with the RCMP, such as name and date of birth, needed to establish the identity of an individual.

The RCMP will only provide Canadian law enforcement officers with biometric data and limited associated tombstone data collected by CIC when there is a potential fingerprint match between a CIC fingerprint and a law enforcement fingerprint. The exact data shared by the RCMP will be elaborated in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations and will be made public when the regulatory amendments are published later this year. However, Canadian law enforcement officials will not have routine access to the immigration status of temporary residents.

Canadian law enforcement officers will continue to follow current practices by contacting the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) Warrant Response Centre or local Inland enforcement offices for further information on a specific individual on a case by case basis. However, immigration warrants are posted on the Canadian Police Information Centre to which Canadian law enforcement agencies have access.

9. What are the chances that a client's fingerprints will be falsely matched to a criminal record?

CIC and the RCMP will be using highly reliable biometric technology in the collection and matching of fingerprints. The RCMP has advised that the possibility of a false positive fingerprint match is very unlikely.

In the unlikely event that a matching error occurs, applicants will have access to a recourse process. Applicant enquiries regarding possible fingerprint matching errors will be addressed by CIC if the error occurred at the time of visa application, and by the CBSA if the matching error occurred at a port of entry.

CIC will assess for any system related issues (e.g. corrupted data) followed by a more detailed investigation if necessary. If no error is detected in the CIC process, CIC will refer the matter to the RCMP for investigation. The applicant will be informed of the results of the final investigation and, if applicable, will be asked to resubmit a new set of fingerprints at no additional cost.

The complaints process described above will be documented in public materials available on CIC’s website. In addition, and as is the current practice, applicants may request access and corrections to their CIC records through the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.

Next Steps

Moving forward,CICwill continue to communicate with affected stakeholder organizations and follow up on offers of assistance. While engagement activities in 2011-12 focussed on domestic stakeholders, stakeholder engagement for 2012-13 will focus on domestic as well as select international stakeholders in initial biometric deployment sites.

CIC will continue to address key concerns expressed by affected stakeholders.

As we move closer to project implementation, CIC will also follow up with stakeholder offers to facilitate distribution of communications about new biometric requirements to additional tourism industry stakeholders, and to review and provide guidance on the client recourse process and on the disclosure notices applicants will be required to sign.

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