Canada is open to tourists again. Here’s how to avoid criminal inadmissibility issues at the border
This year marks the first since the start of the pandemic that Canada is fully open to tourists.
Canada imposed travel restrictions on tourists in March 2020 and lifted them for those fully vaccinated in late summer 2021. Effective April 1st, fully vaccinated tourists do not need to complete a COVID-19 test before entering Canada.
This is good news for tourists since Canada is making it much easier to visit the country.
One thing to keep in mind though is the importance of preparing in advance if you have a criminal offense on your record. Upon arrival to Canada, tourists are greeted by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers. They screen tourists to ensure they comply with Canadian immigration law which includes ensuring they are admissible to Canada. Having a criminal record is grounds for a CBSA officer to deem you inadmissible to Canada and prevent you from visiting the country. American citizens should also understand their passport is linked to their FBI background record which CBSA officers have access to.
It is also important to understand Canada wants tourists. As such the Canadian government provides various solutions so you can overcome your criminal record and be able to visit the country. This is due to Canada believing individuals are able to be rehabilitated and certain infractions do not necessarily mean the tourist presents a public safety risk to Canadians.
A Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) is the first solution. It is a temporary solution that you can pursue as long as you make a compelling argument to the Canadian government as to why your criminal record should be excused on a temporary basis. The TRP is usually a better solution for those seeking temporary entry to Canada on business or for compassionate reasons. It is generally advisable for tourists to pursue the second option instead, known as Criminal Rehabilitation.
Unlike a TRP, applying for Criminal Rehabilitation can resolve your criminal inadmissibility to Canada permanently. If Canada approves your Criminal Rehabilitation application, your criminal record will no longer prevent you from visiting Canada, as long as you do not commit another crime. A minimum of five years from the completion of your most recent sentence needs to elapse before you can apply for rehabilitation. When assessing your application, the Canadian government will consider the Canadian equivalent of your crime. As such, the Criminal Rehabilitation application fee you pay will depend on the severity of your crime. Canada's application fee for non-serious criminality is $200 CAD and $1,000 CAD for serious criminality.
If at least 10 years have elapsed since you were convicted of a non-serious crime, you can be deemed rehabilitated. In this case, you may automatically be deemed rehabilitated under Canadian law and not need to submit any application before visiting Canada. However, you are recommended to consult with a Canadian immigration lawyer before your trip to get peace of mind. A lawyer may suggest getting a legal opinion letter to help you avoid unnecessary misunderstandings by CBSA officers once you arrive.
A legal opinion letter is a third solution. In it, a Canadian immigration lawyer will outline a legal summary of your criminal record and explain why you should be allowed to visit Canada. It can help CBSA officers understand why they should not stop your trip. A legal opinion letter is beneficial in a number of circumstances, such as for:
1) Individuals who have been deemed rehabilitated.
2) Individuals who have been charged but have not been convicted. This includes those who have received a deferral of adjudication or a Nolle Prosequi.
3) Individuals who have been convicted of which there is no equivalent offense under Canadian law.
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