In a previous post we looked at the issue of visitor’s visas to the United States and Canada from the North American point of view. That is, Americans crossing into Canada and vice versa. But many visitors coming to the U.S. or Canada come from outside North America – from Europe or Asia for example. What are the rules affecting them?
In the case of the United States, most visitors from Europe and many from Asia will come under the waiver program. If you visit that website, you will see a list of countries that are members of the program. In general, people from these countries do not need a visa to visit the United States, provided they are staying for 90 days or less. However, to travel without a visa, they must have authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to boarding a U.S. bound air or sea carrier.
Authorization for ESTA can be obtained online. Just to be clear, Canadians are exempt from ESTA.
It’s important to remember that you must leave the country by the end of the 90 days and that you cannot renew your visa inside the U.S. If you need to stay longer than 90 days, you should apply for a B-1 visa at the U.S consulate in your country of residence. That will enable you to stay for up to six months.
As for Canada, a past news release from the Canadian government shows that they may soon do something similar to the United States:
Under the proposed measures, all foreign nationals who are currently exempt from the requirement to obtain a temporary resident visa (TRV), other than citizens of the United States, would be required to apply for and obtain an eTA prior to travelling to Canada by air, unless otherwise exempted. Implementation of the eTA requirement is expected in April 2015.
Meanwhile, however, visitors to Canada from the EU, Australia and some Asian countries are currently able to come to Canada for a period of up to six months on their so-called Temporary Resident Visas – i.e. the stamp in their passport on arrival (see this webpage to find out if your country is on the list).
Note that unlike in the U.S., such visitors can apply to extend their visit while inside Canada, provided they file their application to extend before the expiry of their current Temporary Resident Visa. This policy is likely to stay the same even after Canada implements its eTA program.
This covers visitors to North America, with the exception of Mexico. I am not covering Mexico in this article as I am not a member of the Mexican bar and will leave that subject to Mexican attorneys.
There are, of course, countries whose citizens are not exempt from applying for visas to come to North America. These include China, India, Russia and most African and South American countries.
In these cases, travellers must go through a two-step process to get permission to come to the United States or Canada. First, they must apply to obtain a visa at a U.S. or Canadian Consulate overseas. Then, once they have a visa in their passport, they must apply at the port of entry for permission to enter the U.S. or Canada.
I’ve covered the basics for obtaining a visa before, but essentially you must show that:
- you have a good reason for traveling to North America
- you are not a criminal
- you have no previous immigration problems
- you have sufficient roots in your country of residence that guarantee you will return home at the end of your period of authorized stay
If you applying for the first time, it is very important to ask for a multiple entry visa, otherwise you may end up having to reapply should you wish to travel to North America again.
An application for a B-1/B-2 American visitor’s visa or a Temporary Resident Canadian Visa are sometimes difficult to get, because the country you are applying from may have a bad record of previous overstays of visitors in North America. In that case, you must highlight the reason why you will return home – like close family members being left behind, important work you have at home or substantial wealth that ensures you want to go back there.
If you obtain the visa plate and it is glued into your passport, you are then able to travel to the United States or Canada. You will likely be questioned once again at the port of entry. There is no guarantee that just because you have a visa plate in your passport that you will be allowed to enter. The same considerations related to obtaining the visa in the first place apply yet again: why are you here, are you a criminal, and will you go home? If you are allowed entry, usually it is for up to six months.
Once you have entered the U.S. or Canada on such a visa, you will be able to apply to extend from inside the country provided your application is filed before the expiry date of your visa. Something that is not well known is that if you have a visa to the U.S., you can apply to come to visit Canada at a Canadian consulate in the United States, provided that the period of stay you are looking for is shorter than the period of your authorized stay in the U.S. The same is true for visitors looking for a one-time visit to the U.S. while they are in Canada.
That’s the basics. It is always helpful to look at the website of the U.S. or Canadian consulate where you intend to apply for up to date information that my not be included here.