What visas you need to come to Canada for conferences and conventions

Michael Schwartz
Published: August 16, 2021

Event organizers are already planning to hold conferences and conventions in-person in 2022, pending the ongoing pandemic. Some have already gone back to in-person programming for the fall.

It is already possible to come to Canada as a tourist for U.S. citizens and permanent residents. By September 7, the border is expected to open to fully vaccinated tourists from the rest of the world. It will likely be closed to unvaccinated non-essential travellers for a long time, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested.

Public health measures on international travellers are determined by the federal government, and are applied nationwide. However, the provinces set their own public health measures depending on the COVID-19 situation in their region. Before coming to Canada at any time during the pandemic, you will want to check the current measures. Federal policies are available at this government webpage, and provincial restrictions are available here.

Also, the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) website offers a checklist for the documents and other considerations you will need to take when crossing the border. As for visitor visas, work permits, and overcoming criminal inadmissibility, here is what you need to know:

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Attendees and presenters require different documents

A person who is coming to Canada to attend a conference needs authorization to come to Canada, such as an eTA or visitor’s visa. No work permit is required. U.S. citizens coming from the U.S. can get authorization at the border. Everyone else will need either an eTA or visitor's visa.

eTA: This stands for electronic travel authorization. To get one, you can fill out a form online. It only takes a few minutes to complete. The cost is $7 CAD. Most eTAs are granted within minutes of applying. But, some may take days to process. The eTA lasts for up to five years. It allows multiple entries to Canada, for individual stays of up to six months. Only a U.S. permanent resident or a citizen of a listed country can apply for an eTA. Currently, there are about sixty eligible countries. This group includes the U.K., France, and Australia.

Temporary Resident Visa (TRV): In all other cases, a person has to apply for a visitor visa. This is also sometimes known as a temporary resident visa. Most visitor’s visas last for six months, but their validity can be adjusted. Like the eTA, you can also apply for a visitor visa online.

A person who is coming to Canada to present at a work conference that lasts for five days or less also needs authorization to come to Canada. They do not need a work permit, but will be considered a business visitor. They will still need a visitor visa or eTA, depending on which country they are coming from.

A person who is coming to Canada to present at a work conference that lasts for more than five days needs authorization to enter Canada, and a work permit.

Crossing the border with a criminal record

Having a criminal past will affect your ability to travel to Canada. Each person’s situation will differ. Whether a person is criminally inadmissible to Canada or not will depend on several factors, such as:

  • the type and number of crimes;
  • jail sentence length, if any; and
  • how long it has been since completion of sentence (jail, probation, fine, etc.)

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There are three potential solutions to overcome inadmissibility.

Temporary Resident Permit (TRP): If a person is inadmissible due to serious criminality, and less than five years has passed since sentence completion, this will be the only option. A TRP may last for a day, or up to three years. It may be single-use, or allow multiple entries. The applicant will have to show a compelling reason to come to Canada. They should also demonstrate that the benefits of their visit outweigh any risks.

Criminal rehabilitation: This is a process by which a person who was inadmissible becomes admissible again. Unlike a TRP, it is permanent. This means that a person does not have to re-apply for rehabilitation each time they want to visit Canada. In some cases, a person will apply for what is known as individual rehabilitation. This option is available to some people who completed their sentence at least five years prior. There is also deemed rehabilitation. The latter form occurs automatically. It only applies, however, to people who committed less serious crimes and who completed their sentence at least ten years prior.

Legal opinion letter: This is a document a lawyer draws up. It explains the client’s criminal record and its impact. A legal opinion letter can argue why a client is not inadmissible, or why the client deserves a TRP or rehabilitation. The letter can also be helpful to people who have been charged with a crime but not yet convicted. It can explain to officers the client’s situation.

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