The U.S. has made it official all Canadian landed immigrants will have to have a passport and a visa to enter the United States, as of March 17. The new rules apply to immigrants from 54 British Commonwealth countries and Ireland who were previously exempt.
For the trucking industry, it means some carriers across the country could find themselves in a logistical jam scheduling drivers for U.S. runs if they aren’t well into the process of making sure all their affected company drivers and owner/operators have the necessary papers in order by St. Patrick’s Day.
The official announcement about passport and visa requirements came Jan. 31, a week after publication of a story in the February issue of Truck News about carriers who had been worried about rumours of impending deadlines first in December and then by Feb. 1. As that issue went to press, U.S. Consular officials told Truck News that new visa rules were still just a proposal and they didn’t know when that might change although they were accepting visa applications.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Consulate Toronto previously said that 45 days advance notice of a mandatory visa requirement would be given and that’s exactly what happened on Jan. 31.
The new rules apply to a potential 4.7 million immigrant Canadians, based on the most recent published census data from Statistics Canada. It’s unclear how many drivers in the trucking industry are affected, because no statistics are kept on the number of immigrants who are owner/operators or company drivers.
The 45 calendar-day notice actually leaves only 32 business days for affected landed-immigrant truck drivers indeed all landed immigrants planning travel to the U.S. to comply with the new rules.
Fleets and owner/operators who didn’t hedge their bets before, are now scrambling to meet the firm deadline and there isn’t a lot of time given that drivers must have both a passport and a visa.
"We’re having fits ourselves trying to get this done in a timely fashion," said Dave Raynsford, director of safety operations at Mississauga-based QuikX Transportation Inc. He said QuikX sent memos out to its drivers about visa and passport requirements at the end of January, but one or two weeks could pass before some drivers receive them because they’re on long hauls.
It may be impossible for some drivers to get their papers in order by the March 17 deadline. A passport application requires getting two photographs taken, and finding a guarantor from a stipulated list who can vouch for you. Both of those requirements take time and effort to meet.
Meanwhile, the Passport Office is backlogged, and says for the first part of 2003, there’s a six-to-eight week turnaround time for mail-in passport applications. In-person applications were taking 11 days to process at the Scarborough Passport Office.
And the U.S. Embassy said some visa applications could take up to 60 days and applicants shouldn’t make plans to travel to the U.S. until their visa application is processed.
There’s an $85 fee for a passport, and the U.S. is charging US$100 for mail-in and in-person visa applications. In Toronto, the fee must be deposited to a special Scotiabank account in advance of a visa application.
"It’ll have a certain impact on our operations," says Raynsford. "We’re going to reach a point where we have some Canada-only operations for some drivers."
He said about 15 to 20 per cent of QuikX drivers will be affected by the new visa rules. QuikX tries to make sure it works mostly with drivers who either already have a visa or are Canadian citizens, Raynsford added.
Canadian citizens are exempt from the new rules, as are citizens of Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and the U.K. Citizens of those countries won’t require a non-immigrant visa for stays in the U.S. of 90 days or less.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) "has done as much as we could" to get the word out well ahead of time, said Elly Meister, vice-president of public affairs for the Alliance. She says the CTA advised member associations and carriers before Christmas that changes to border entry for landed immigrants were coming, although nobody knew specifically when.
"We’ve been advising our members to stay ahead of the curve. To what extent it’s been happening, I don’t know," said Paul Landry, president of the British Columbia Trucking Association (BCTA).
"There’s a significant immigrant population in cross-border trucking in British Columbia, many Indo-Canadians. It’s difficult to say how this is going to affect them," Landry says. "My guess is that there will be a lot of drivers (in B.C.) who are going to be affected" by the new U.S. border entry requirements, he adds.
"I expect there are a lot of companies in Ontario that are going to be affected," predicted Raynsford.
But even if landed immigrants have a visa and a passport, there’s no guarantee they’ll get across the border. The visa is only an application to enter the United States, and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) can still deny admission. Landed immigrants will have to fill out a third piece of paperwork at the border INS Form I-94, which is an arrival/departure record. There’s the potential for landed-immigrant drivers to be denied permission to cross the border once they get to it.
Now that the U.S. Government has officially set out the deadline and requirements for landed immigrants, the time for procrastinating and protesting the U.S. border security measure is over. "We’re just going to have to comply at this point," says the CTA’s Meister.
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