I will introduce my colleagues: Maia Welbourne, who is the director in admissibility policy responsible for the electronic travel authorization, and Marie Bourry, our senior general counsel.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to speak to you today about Bill C-45, the Jobs and Growth Act, 2012, and more specifically the subject matter of division 16 of part 4 of the act. I will focus my remarks on one particular element of this piece of legislation: a measure that will bring valuable improvements to Canada's immigration system.
As members of this committee are well aware, the Government of Canada has made the reform of the immigration system an important priority. Recent initiatives in this regard have helped to foster an immigration system that can fill significant labour shortages across the country and help us meet our economic needs more quickly and efficiently—a system designed to give newcomers the best possible chance to succeed.
As it does so, the government is implementing policies that safeguard the integrity and security of our immigration system. Taken together, all of these initiatives are helping to deliver transformation changes to the immigration system.
Not only is that system central to our economic well-being and our social cohesion, Mr. Chair, it is also an important piece of Canada's international relations agenda. And in the area of international relationships, our partnership with our closest ally, the United States, is of paramount importance to Canada. Indeed, the United States is—by far—Canada's largest trading partner. In a typical year, more than $500 billion worth of two-way trade takes place between our countries. Also, about 400,000 people cross our shared border every day, by all modes of transport.
As you know, last year, Prime Minister Harper and President Obama launched the action plan on perimeter security and economic competitiveness. This agreement signaled a mutual desire on the part of both Canada and the United States to work in partnership to enhance the security of our borders and facilitate the flow of people and goods between our countries. Passage of the Jobs and Growth Act, 2012 will help fulfill one of Canada's key commitments of the action plan.
That's because one of the measures in this bill would enable the implementation of the eTA, an electronic travel authorization.
The eTA is a measure that will bring valuable improvements to Canada's immigration system. We will be able to screen individuals before they board a plane to visit our country, in order to determine whether or not they pose an admissibility or security risk. In other words, we will be able to determine whether they have a criminal record or something else on their file that shows they present a risk to Canada. This will apply to foreign nationals who do not require a visa to visit Canada; the only exception would be American citizens.
With the passage of this bill, visitors to Canada who are nationals of non-visa-required countries—with the exception of the United States, as I mentioned—will be required to apply for an eTA in order to travel to Canada. This new system will be in place by the spring of 2015.
This is a notable development in the reform of our immigration system and in our partnership with our southern neighbour. Consistent with our beyond-the-border commitments, the new system will address threats to North America and help ensure security in the continental perimeter we share with the United States.
It will establish a common Canada-U.S. approach to screening travellers before they depart their home countries by plane to travel to North America. The U.S. already has a similar system in place: it's called the “electronic system for travel authorization”, or ESTA. The U.S. system has proved to be a great success since it was established in 2008.
Working together, our travel authorization systems will not only help to address possible security threats to North America, but they will also help to ease the flow of travellers who do not pose any potential risk to our countries. That's because we'll be able to identify and screen out inadmissible individuals while they are still overseas, instead of dealing with them once they arrive at a Canadian port of entry.
Here is how it will work. Eligible foreign nationals—individuals who don't require a visa to enter Canada—will be required to make online applications for an eTA before they board a plane to Canada. Our system will then check the traveller's information against applicable databases.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, we will be able to grant travellers an eTA within minutes of applying. A small minority of applications will require additional scrutiny by Canadian visa officers. If a visa officer determines that any given applicant is inadmissible to Canada and therefore ineligible for an eTA, that individual will not be allowed to board a plane to this country.
The beauty and efficiency of this new system is self-evident: it gives Canadian officials the ability to identify and screen out inadmissible individuals overseas instead of dealing with them only once they've arrived at a port of entry. This will have benefits in terms of reduced costs and resources required to process people in Canada. It could also speed up the process of entering Canada for low-risk foreign travellers. Once it is up and running, the eTA should also act as a deterrent to those inadmissible individuals who won't want their information verified before travelling; it will deter them from even attempting to travel to Canada.
Mr. Chair, it's important to stress, once again, that the eTA will only apply to those foreign nationals from visa-exempt countries. For travellers to Canada from visa-required countries, we will continue with the current process of requiring them to apply for visas before they can come to our country. Also, the eTA will not apply to U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, just as the requirements of the U.S. ESTA program do not apply to Canadian citizens.
It's also very important to note that all collection, use and storage of personal information in the administration of the eTA will fully comply with Canada's Privacy Act and the Canada-U.S. privacy principles.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair, the government has demonstrated a strong commitment to strengthening the immigration system to make it truly proactive, targeted, fast, and efficient in a way that will contribute to Canada's economic growth and help deliver prosperity for the future. It has also put in place policies that safeguard the integrity and security of that system.
Thank you. We'll be pleased to answer questions that members of the committee may have.