Posted on - Aug 27, 2019

By Catherine Sas Q.C and Preet Gill

Catherine Sas Q.C.

In January 2013, Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) first introduced an identification and security measure known as biometrics with a view of strengthening Canada’s immigration programs through identity theft prevention and effective screening for previous criminal or immigration history. At its introduction in 2013, IRCC began requiring biometric information to support applications for temporary resident visas, work permits and study permits from foreign nationals from 29 countries. In 2014, the collection of biometrics further expanded to overseas refugee applicants.

The goal that biometrics seeks to achieve is laudable, but IRCC’s process of implementing this new system has been anything but smooth. In our experience as immigration lawyers, there is considerable confusion as to who needs to provide biometrics as well as where and when they are to be obtained. Let’s examine exactly what biometrics are and who needs to obtain them and in what circumstances.

Biometrics is an electronic identification system where select foreign nationals are required to provide a fingerprint scan and a digital photograph to the Canadian government before their application can be processed. Biometric information is used in the immigration process to simplify the entry of low-risk travelers into Canada and serves as a method for the government to keep track of individuals entering Canada.

On July 31, 2018, the Canadian government made an expansion to the immigration biometrics requirements, by extending the program to include foreign nationals applying from countries in Europe and Middle East Africa as well as all applicants for permanent residence to Canada. On December 31st, 2018, the program was further extended to apply to foreign nationals from Asia, Asia Pacific and the Americas.

Given the staggered phases of implementation, the biometrics application process has caused confusion for many applicants regarding the process of when, where and how to provide biometrics and whether applicants must meet these new requirements.

Who Needs to Give Biometrics?

Applicants applying for permanent residency or temporary resident visas, including students, visitors, and workers, are required to undergo biometric collection. However, once a temporary resident has completed biometrics collection, he or she will be exempt from providing biometric information for the next 10 years, which will facilitate their entries

or extended stays in Canada in the future. On the other hand, if an individual has previously made a temporary immigration application such as a student or worker where biometrics were required, and is now applying for permanent residence, they must give new biometrics.

IRCC has provided a general online questionnaire for applicants to determine whether biometrics collection is required, which can be found on the IRCC website at http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/biometrics.asp

Exemptions

US citizens and travelers from visa-exempt countries with a valid Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) who plan to travel to Canada as visitors are exempt from the need to undergo biometrics collection. Additionally, IRCC provides that the following applicants are also exempt from providing biometrics:

  • Canadian citizens, citizenship applicants (including passport applicants), or existing permanent residents;
  • U.S. visa holders transiting to Canada for less than 48 hours;
  • Refugee claimants or protected persons who have already provided biometrics and are applying for a study or work permit; and
  • Temporary resident applicants who have already provided biometrics in support of a permanent resident application that is still in progress.

After determining whether biometrics are required for your entry to Canada, the next step is to schedule an appointment at the nearest Visa Application Centre (VAC). The cost for biometrics for an individual is $85 CAD and $170 CAD for a family.

Currently, an applicant can give their biometrics at an overseas VAC or at 57 ports of entry to Canada. There are 137 VACs in 95 different countries, where applicants can provide their biometrics.

A full list of VACs can be found on the IRCC website at: https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/contact-ircc/offices/find-visa-application-centre.html

Whether an applicant is applying online or by mail, once they have paid their biometrics fee they will receive a Biometrics Instruction Letter from IRCC. It is essential that the applicant brings this letter and a valid passport when they provide their biometric information.

Applying from Inside Canada

In 2018, IRCC had indicated on their website that by 2019 applicants within Canada would be able to give their biometric information at specified Service Canada locations. However, as of May 31, 2019, IRCC has announced that due to there being no biometric service delivery network in Canada, there is a temporary public policy exemption for in-Canada applicants.

Biometrics is a sophisticated system of identification intended to maintain the integrity of Canada’s immigration program. While the philosophy behind biometrics is unquestionably commendable, the process of introducing this new system has been fraught with complication. The staggered phases of introduction in various countries and the inability to provide biometrics from within Canada together with misleading information on the IRCC website, has made this process confusing for many. It is hoped that IRCC will sort out the remaining steps of the biometrics process to the benefit of prospective immigrants to Canada.


Catherine Sas, Q.C. is a Vancouver immigration lawyer at Sas & Ing Immigration Law Centre in Vancouver, BC Canada. Catherine has been practicing law for over 25 years, and has been voted Vancouver’s Best Immigration Lawyer by the Georgia Straight newspaper for 6 consecutive years.


To learn more about immigrating to Canada, becoming a permanent Canadian resident or bringing your family to Canada, email Catherine Sas or call her at 1-604-689-5444.

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