Will New U.S. Visa Rules Affect Canadian Travellers?

If you have cable TV and watch American channels frequently, you will have noticed a good deal of coverage on a movement in the U.S. Congress to limit visits by citizens from so-called visa-waiver countries. Said movement includes calls for increased information sharing on travellers, background checks, and improved passport technologies.

These visa-waiver nations include 38 countries whose citizens don’t require visas to enter the U.S. for visits of up to 90 days. Yes, they still require passports and are subject to inspection by Customs and Border Protection agents; however, because they don’t need visas, their entry is relatively easy.

Will new restrictions—if they pass the Senate, get the president’s signature, and become law—affect Canadians visiting the U.S.? Will they affect you, a snowbird and long-time generous contributor to the U.S. economy? For the most part, if you’re a Canadian citizen, no. At least not in the short run. But you need to stay tuned in.

Visa-waiver countries are mostly European, but also include friendlies such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Taiwan, and a few others.

Canada is not one of the visa-waiver countries per se because it has a special relationship with the U.S. (Canadians are allowed to visit the U.S. for up to six months in any 12-month period without a visa). But this fact needs some clarification. Canadian citizens visiting (not immigrating to or working or conducting business in the U.S.) enter on what is called a B2 visa, which is really just a virtual, paperless visa category. It’s nothing you can see or touch, but it becomes real when it’s stamped into your passport by the CBP agent.

On the other hand, if you’re a legal permanent resident of Canada (not yet a citizen) and travelling on a passport from your native country, you fall under the rules applied to that country. If you’re from one of the visa-waiver countries, you will be subject to the new rules currently being promulgated in the U.S. Congress. One of the proposed rules states that if you have made any trips to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria in the last five years, you will be turned back at the border and told to go through the normal visa process.  And I suspect, even if you are a Canadian citizen with a Canadian passport, and you have made recent trips to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria, you may undergo some special “diligence.”

The tightening of U.S. visa controls could also affect Canadian citizens with amorous motivations to enter the U.S.—prospective fiancées or other such relationships. Currently, the U.S. K1 visa (also known as the fiancée visa) allows U.S. citizens to sponsor prospective foreign spouses (including Canadians) to be admitted and married within 90 days. If the Congressional visa bill passes—and it is targeted to be done by this year’s end—that simple route to conjugality may become more difficult.

I caution that not all Congressional Bills see the light of day—especially in this administration. But the issue of strengthening visa controls on visitors to the U.S. in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino terrorist massacres has huge bipartisan support. The bill passed in the House, 407 to 19.

This is an issue that’s not going away. We’ll keep you updated.

 

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