New Rules Coming for Entry into U.S.

The events of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent “war on terrorism” that has resulted appear like they will continue to impact the way we travel for years, if not decades, to come.

In the very near future, new legislation passed on the United States Congress will begin to have an effect on the flow of tourists and other visitors to the U.S. The U.S. Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act of 2004 contains provisions that will being to kick in at the end of this year and come fully into effect at the end of 2007.

Essentially, the law requires that all travelers entering the U.S. — including returning Americans — carry passports or some other, yet to be determined form of secure I.D. Beginning on December 31, 2006 this will apply to all air and sea travelers into the U.S. And beginning on December 31, 2007 it will be applied to all those crossing at land borders.

While there are still discussions happening between the Canadian and U.S. governments about the possibility of exempting Canada from these requirements, it appears increasingly likely that a flat out exemption is not in the cards. In one way or another, Canadians will have to show proof of citizenship through some form of secure I.D. when traveling to the U.S. in the future. And for most Canadians, this means a passport.

Obviously this has huge implications for Canadian citizens used to going to the U.S. with nothing more than a driver’s license and a copy of their birth certificate. Naturalized citizens of Canada and permanent residents are less likely to be inconvenienced by this change because they are much more likely to a) have valid passports and b) be accustomed to carrying them as I.D. when traveling internationally.

But the effect of this law will also impact Americans since they will have to meet the same requirements as non-U.S. citizens when seeking to re-enter the U.S. and therefore won’t be admitted to Canada without first showing they have I.D. that will allow them to return home. And currently Americans are far less likely than Canadians to hold passports (24% of Americans versus 39% of Canadians have valid passports).

Many Canadian businesses across the country depend on American clientele to keep them profitable. So a major reduction in U.S. visitors to Canada could have a serious negative impact on our economy.

Because of the relatively high Canadian dollar, we are already seeing a decline in cross border traffic in some areas. One of the busiest border crossings in Canada, the Peace Bridge between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario, recently recorded the lowest number of crossings in a 24-hour period since records have been kept. Imagine how a continuously strong Canadian dollar combined with the new onerous requirements to travel to and from Canada will have on the number of Americans visiting us by 2008.

American officials from border states like Washington are just as concerned as their Canadian counterparts about the effect this law could have on cross-border commerce once it is fully implemented. Since 9/11 many Canadian residents, especially immigrants to Canada, have found it to be an increasingly less pleasant experience to travel to the U.S. for business or pleasure as American officials have become more vigilant. The new I.D. requirements could be enough for many people to decide to go shopping or vacation elsewhere.

Some, including the former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Denis Coderre, have proposed a new, high-tech, national I.D. card as a solution that will allow for the continued efficient flow of people and goods between our two countries. However, such a system will likely take years to implement and would probably end up costing billions of dollars. Moreover, the notion of a compulsory, government-issued I.D. goes against the traditions of civil liberties that exist in both Canada and the U.S. because of the amount of information it would put in the hands of government and the invasions of personal privacy it could lead to.

Others are calling for a “North American security parameter” that would involve harmonizing our border control and immigration policies with the U.S. to a greater degree and allow for the sharing of information and intelligence between the two countries. Many Canadians, however, are uncomfortable with the implications this would have on our sovereignty and our ability to formulate policy in these areas as an independent country.

In the short term it appears that a lot more Canadians will be requiring passports if they expect to continue to make regular visits to our neighbour to the south. At the very least, expect the lines at the passport office to get a little bit longer over the next 18 months.