The U.S. and Canadian governments recently announced the signing of a visa and immigration information-sharing agreement between the United States and Canada. It will enable both countries to share information from third-country nationals who apply for a visa or permit to travel to either country.
The need for a visa
Visitors from most countries require a visa to enter the United States. However, the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for a maximum of 90 days without a visa, provided the trip is solely for tourism or business. Current participating countries include Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Individuals planning on remaining in the United States for more than 90 days or who wish to change nonimmigrant status once in the United States may not avail themselves of the VWP. Additionally, if a person has been refused admission to the United States under the VWP, he will require a visa for future entry.
Visitors from all other countries, regardless of the purpose of their visit to the United States, require a visa for entry. The most common U.S. visa issued is the B1/B2, or visitor visa, which also allows entry for business (but not employment) purposes. Visitors entering under the VWP do not require a B1/B2 visa; entry under the VWP serves the same purposes. B1/B2 visas generally are valid for 10 years.
U.S. visas are not issued within the United States. Rather, they are issued at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. The embassy system falls under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State. Visitors wishing to apply for a visa must make an appointment with the U.S. embassy or consulate having jurisdiction over their place of residence; a complete listing (including links to consular webpages) can be found at www.usembassy.state.gov. Because all embassies and consulates have their own visa application procedures, it is very important to check the appropriate webpage for the most current information.
New agreement between the United States and Canada
The agreement enables Canada and the United States to share information from third-country nationals who apply for a visa or permit to travel to either country. It is intended to protect the safety and security of Americans and Canadians and facilitate legitimate travel and business. According to the State Department, increased information sharing will support better decision making by both countries in confirming applicants’ identities and identifying risks and inadmissible persons at the earliest opportunity.
The agreement authorizes the development of arrangements under which the United States may send an automated request for data to Canada, such as when a third-country national applies to a U.S. embassy or consulate for a visa or claims asylum. That type of request would contain limited information such as name and date of birth (in the case of biographic sharing) or anonymous fingerprints (in the case of biometric sharing). If the identity matches that of a previous application, immigration information may be shared―e.g., whether the person was previously refused a visa or removed from the other country. The same process also would apply when a third-country national applies to Canada for a visa or claims asylum. Biographic information sharing is set to begin in 2013; biometric sharing in 2014. Under the agreement, information will not be shared regarding U.S. or Canadian citizens or permanent residents.
The agreement is intended to increase the safety and security of travel to both the United States and Canada. Visa applicants should expect information to be shared between the two countries.