Applying for an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) with a criminal record

Matt Hendler, Michael Schwartz
Published: September 7, 2021

The electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) is an entry requirement for visa-exempt foreign nationals travelling to Canada by air.

Since 2016, Canada has been using the eTA system to process and screen visitors quickly and securely. People who are citizens of visa-exempt countries will need an eTA to enter Canada if they are arriving by air. They do not need one if they are coming by land or sea. U.S. citizens do not need an eTA even if they are coming to Canada by air.  

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Here is a list of visa-exempt countries 

The eTA application is typically a smooth process for anyone without a criminal history. Applicants submit their requests online. The application fee is only $7 CAD. Usually, applicants receive their eTA within minutes. 

If a person has a past or ongoing interaction with a criminal justice system, though, they may be considered inadmissible to Canada. Even a driving under the influence (DUI) conviction can result in a person being criminally inadmissible. As a result, their eTA may be delayed or even denied. This can be the case even if the person is still technically eligible to come to Canada. 

Happily, though, the Canadian government offers short and long-term solutions to travelers in these situations. This group can include both people who have been denied an eTA due to a criminal record or who think that they may be criminally inadmissible to Canada. 

 Generally, there are three paths to resolving inadmissibility: 

Temporary Resident Permit (TRP): This document grants temporary access to Canada for someone who is otherwise criminally inadmissible. If the traveler is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, they can apply for a TRP at a Canadian consulate or point-of-entry, such as at an airport or a border crossing.  A TRP might be valid for a single day, or for up to three years. It may be good for only a single entry to Canada, or it may allow multiple entries. These elements will depend on the purpose of the visit to Canada. The choice of whether to grant a TRP - and if so, for what validity period - lies with the reviewing immigration officer(s).  The purpose for entering Canada is usually the most important factor. A TRP is more likely to be approved for a business purpose than for a hunting trip, for example.  If you obtain a TRP, it is important to note that you are not required to get an eTA to enter Canada. The government processing fee for a TRP application is $200 CAD. 

Criminal Rehabilitation: Criminal rehabilitation gives permanent admissibility to someone who was formerly inadmissible. Being eligible for criminal rehabilitation depends on several factors. These include: 

  •   the crime(s) committed, 
  •   the sentence(s), and; 
  •   how much time has passed since completion of sentence(s) 

If you have been convicted of a crime or crimes in a foreign country, and more than five years have passed since you finished your sentence, you are likely eligible to apply for criminal rehabilitation. Criminal rehabilitation is a one-time solution that, unlike a TRP, never requires renewal. 

Visa-exempt foreign nationals must be aware that even if they are approved for criminal rehabilitation, they still must obtain an eTA before coming to Canada.  An application for criminal rehabilitation costs either $200CAD or $1000CAD for serious criminality. 

Legal Opinion Letter:  Another remedy to a potential criminal inadmissibility problem is a legal opinion letter. This is a document that a Canadian immigration lawyer prepares. The letter discusses a past charge or conviction, as well as the lawyer’s legal conclusions. The lawyer will identify the relevant Canadian law and explain why the person should be deemed admissible to Canada. A legal opinion letter can also be beneficial to those in a pre-sentencing situation before making a final plea. It can explain the different consequences of various pleas on the person’s ability to enter Canada. 

You can travel to Canada as often as you want for short stays (normally for up to six months at a time) with a current eTA. It can be valid for up to five years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first.

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