Emina Tudakovic | Visa openness and Canada-Jamaica relations
With nearly one in four Canadians being permanent residents or naturalised citizens, Canada’s rich history of immigration is no surprise. Globally, migration itself remains a prominent topic in political and policy discussions, particularly as it can be divisive concerning irregular arrivals, be they asylum seekers fleeing prosecution or those searching for better and more prosperous futures. Governments struggle to balance legal and moral obligations with their own domestic realities.
Canadian public support for migration is maintained by ensuring that the social, economic, and cultural benefits of migration are highlighted while the process itself seems legal, orderly, and fair. Public policies actively work to ensure that visitors contribute positively to our nation and that newcomers embrace Canadian values and norms within our multicultural framework.
Where beneficial, diplomats often highlight the value of people-to-people ties. The presence of diasporas between nations contributes to diversity and friendship. Here in Jamaica, it is rare not to meet someone with Canadian ties, be it a relative or someone who studies or works in Canada. Unfortunately, despite the positive impact of these ties, the immigration process itself can create a sense of discord and confusion. The bureaucracy needed to respect legal processes and be as fair as possible can also be daunting to travellers, particularly as the visa-application process can evoke anxiety and emotion.
I have had many questions about Jamaica not being on the most recent expansion for Canada’s electronic travel authorisation (eTA), announced in early June. Most visa-exempt foreign nationals travelling to or transiting Canada require an eTA. The June announcement expanded this programme to 13 additional countries but only for those who have previously held a Canadian visa in the past ten years or currently hold a valid United States non-immigrant visa. Jamaica was not included.
This was certainly a disappointment. However, it must be underscored that this was not a reflection of any rupture or issues with our Canada-Jamaica bilateral relationship as our ties remain as strong as ever. The eTA process is a factual-based review by multiple government ministries using objective criteria to assess whether or not the change in visa requirements would protect Canada’s national interests and be beneficial overall. While the process is not public, criteria such as refusal rates for visitor visa applications, crime and security trends, and fraud rates are considered.
While the Canadian visitor visa process does entail detailed forms and steps, for many years now, the Canadian government has worked to streamline and modernise both the application system for clients and processing procedures. It is not perfect, but it strives to balance travel facilitation with what Canada needs to ascertain whether someone is eligible for a visa and admissible.
In Jamaica, we have encountered some issues with the visa applications that are being submitted and some distressing scams.
As a key point, when applying, people should make sure to follow instructions accurately and provide all requested information. Attention to detail is crucial, and if clarification is required, add an explanation. An application should accurately reflect why you wish to travel and how your plans make sense given your personal situation. The person reviewing your application doesn’t know you and can only assess your application based on what you include. Apply early, and be mindful that processing times can be lengthy.
Be honest. Misrepresentation on a visa application can result in a five-year travel ban to Canada. Lying about whether or not a previous refusal or immigration enforcement action happened is problematic as it calls into question the veracity of other parts of your application. Before a five-year ban from travel is imposed, if you have made a mistake that presents itself as misrepresentation, you will get a chance to respond. It is again better to be truthful. Visa officers understand that information can be forgotten, particularly if it is relatively minor.
DO NOT PAY
Crucially, do not pay anyone who is not an authorised representative to complete your application. Canadian laws require that anyone paid for the service of completing a visa form be an immigration consultant registered with a regulatory board (called the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants) or a member of a Canadian law society. Unless registered, this means that most travel agents are not authorised to assist with visa applications. Completing an application without payment, such as for a family member or as part of job duties, is fine. In all cases, the applicant himself or herself is responsible for all the information in the application. We see a number of applications that are poorly prepared by unauthorised agents.
On another note, please be wary of scams. If it seems too good to be true, it is. Under Canadian law, it is illegal to pay to find a job. We are seeing scams where people have paid considerable money (including their life savings) to get what they think is an appointment at the Canadian High Commission to get a work permit. You should never pay someone to get a work permit or visa outside of the regular listed fees for the application process itself. Currently, a visitor visa fee is $100 plus an additional $85 if you need to provide biometrics.
Your starting point for all things related to immigration and citizenship is the Government of Canada website: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/immigration-citizenship.html.
As we look forward, Canada’s commitment to strengthening the enduring Canada-Jamaica bilateral relationship remains steadfast. While the recent eTA expansion may not have included Jamaica, we are determined to continue to explore avenues for closer cooperation and smoother travel between our nations. Jamaicans are always welcome in Canada, and migration remains an important bridge that connects us.