Canada to improve tracking of departures

The Federal Government has announced plans to start collecting exit information for almost all individuals who travel out of Canada. 

It may come as a surprise to many that Canada does not currently know when most people leave the country.  While we collect information on individuals who legally enter Canada, we generally don’t track when people depart.  Our only form of exit tracking was implemented in 2013 when Canada began receiving entry records from American authorities for foreign nationals and permanent residents (but not Canadian citizens) who crossed the land border into the United States such that the entry into the United States could serve as confirmation that the individual had departed Canada.

Under the new plan, travelers will not have to take any additional steps when leaving the country as exit information will be gathered from the United States (in the event of a departure through the land border) or from air carriers.

The implementation of the improved exit system will occur in two phases, one to cover land travel and the other to cover individuals who depart Canada by air. 

First, the monitoring of individuals leaving Canada by land will be augmented by increasing the current exchange of information with the United States to include Canadian citizens who cross the Canada-USA land border.  This is expected to be implemented by the summer. 

Twelve months later, air carriers will be required to provide the government with electronic passenger manifest information prior to the departure of all outbound international flights. 

Once both of these additional pieces of exit data collection are implemented, Canada will be gathering information on the departure of approximately 97% of all outbound travelers (only missing exit information for the limited number of individuals who depart Canada by rail or via marine modes of transportation).

The effects of this exit data collection will be far reaching.  The government’s ability to access a much more complete set of exit information is intended to improve national security, better monitor compliance of Canada’s immigration laws, and protect the integrity of federally administered social benefit programs.

The government has noted that collecting this exit information for all individuals who leave Canada will reduce national and public safety risks by allowing authorities to identify and respond to the travel of high-risk individuals (e.g. known terrorists, human smugglers, child abductors etc.) and to better detect controlled or prohibited goods departing Canada on board outbound commercial international flights.

The exit information will also be used by both Employment and Social Development Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency.  ESDC will be able to use the exit information to identify people who are outside of Canada and who are no longer eligible to receive benefits under Canada’s Employment Insurance and Old Age Security Programs (an estimated savings of $206.11 million over 10 years).  Similarly, the CRA will be able to use the exit information to ensure compliance with eligibility requirements for family and child tax credits and other benefits (an estimated savings of $151.06 million over 10 years).

Improved integrity of Canada’s immigration and customs systems will be one of the key benefits of improved exit information.  As the government will now have information on who is inside and outside of Canada and how long returning individuals have been outside of the country, it will be able to confirm applicable duties and taxes for returning residents, identify temporary residents who attempt to remain in Canada beyond their authorized stay, focus immigration enforcement investigations on persons still in Canada, determine whether family-class sponsors are residing in Canada, and verify whether permanent residents or applicants for citizenship have met their residency requirements.

Whenever the government proposes to increase the collection of personal information, the impact on privacy is always an important consideration.  The government has committed to conducting ongoing audits and evaluations to ensure that it is accountable for how the personal information is used and have also determined that collected information will be retained for no more than 15 years unless otherwise required by law.

Once fully implemented, the collection of exit data has the potential to significantly improve the ability of Canadian immigration authorities to detect and quickly respond to individuals who stay in Canada beyond the period authorized.  It remains to be seen how exactly the tracking of exit data will affect how immigration authorities operate.  It is clear, however, that it will be as important as ever for individuals to ensure that they remain in careful compliance with the conditions of their stays in Canada. 

McCuaig Desrochers LLP is a general practice law firm with Edmonton’s largest group of immigration lawyers (www.mccuaig.com). This article first appeared in the Millwoods Mosaic – the Multicultural Voice of Southeast Edmonton and is intended to provide general information only and should not to be relied on as legal advice or opinion. We invite you to contact one of the members of our experienced immigration group for assistance.