Cablegate: Canada's Visa Issuing Process

Published: Tue 26 Aug 2003 05:05 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (U) (Summary) Canada,s visa issuing process closely
resembles that of the United States. There exist, however, a
number of structural and procedural differences between the
two countries. In general, the United States tends to have
stronger security measures in place and rejects a higher
percentage of its applicants than does Canada. In the last
few years, Canada has taken a few steps to improve its visa
issuing process, but a number of additional actions are
needed to bring its practices in line with U.S. standards.
(End summary)
The Structure and Staffing of CIC
2. (U) Poloff met recently with Keith Carter, Director of
Citizenship and Immigration Canada's (CIC) Western
Hemispheres Bureau, and received a broad overview of the
Canadian visa issuing process. Poloff also met separately
with H.G. Pardy, Director General of the Department of
Foreign Affairs and Trade's (DFAIT) Consular Affairs Bureau
and received additional information pertaining to Canadian
visa issues.
3. (U) According to Carter, Citizenship and Immigration
Canada (CIC) is the agency responsible for issuing both
immigrant and non-immigrant Canadian visas to citizens of
other countries. It was once a part of Canada,s Department
of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), but broke
off to form its own agency in 1994 and currently employs
4,700 employees worldwide. DFAIT continues to maintain a
Bureau of Consular Affairs, but officers in this bureau do
not issue visas; rather they have the responsibility of
aiding Canadians abroad. They perform duties roughly
analogous to the American Citizen Services duties performed
by U.S. consular officers.
4. (U) There are relatively few Canadian posts that are
actually staffed and equipped to issue visas. There are, for
example, only 18 such posts in the Western Hemisphere and six
of these are located within the United States. CIC uses
these posts as hub-centers and applicants often have to
travel outside of their home countries to one of these
hub-centers to apply for visas. Carter explained that CIC
is experimenting with a drop-box system in which smaller
regional centers collect applications and forward them on,
without interviewing, to a hub-center for adjudication. To
illustrate, someone in El Salvador (a regional center) can
currently drop off his/her application in El Salvador and it
will be sent via the Computer Assisted Immigration Processing
System (CAIPS) to Guatemala (a hub center) where an officer
can decide to either accept, reject, or call the applicant to
Guatemala for a personal interview.
5. (U) Carter explained that CIC staffs its posts with both
Canadian Foreign Service Officers and Locally Engaged Staff
(LES). The local hires are given a great deal of
responsibility. Most significantly, CIC allows them to
adjudicate both immigrant and non-immigrant visas. Because
they are given such a high degree of responsibility, these
local hires are usually either Canadian expatriates or
trusted Embassy employees who have served in the Embassy for
several years. While the Canadian Foreign Service Officers
are technically the supervisors of the locally hired staff,
the two groups, in fact, work side-by-side and perform many
of the same duties. This sharing of duties occurs even
though the local hires receive both less training and a
significantly less comprehensive security check than their
commissioned colleagues. It should be noted, however, that
only Canadian Foreign Service Officers have access to the
actual visa foils, which are kept locked away, and the
locally hired staff is also denied access to all classified
6. (U) Carter could not remember any recent occasions when
locally hired staff abused their right to adjudicate visas.
He said that when scandals occur, they usually arise as money
is moved back-and-forth during the accounting part of the
process, not from malfeasance in the visa issuing process.
Carter did admit, however, that there are some regions where
CIC feels that local staff could be easily compromised.
Therefore, in these areas, CIC does not allow local staff to
adjudicate visas. There are, for example, no local staff
adjudicating visas in Moscow or the Middle East, and in
Beijing only Canadian expatriates are used. The place where
local staff adjudicators are most greatly utilized is in the
United States. (Note: Despite Carter,s claims, there have
been several incidents recently in which Canadian local hires
have been found guilty of malfeasance. Two weeks ago, a
Syrian Embassy worker (part of the PA office and not
affiliated with CIC) was fired after allegedly taking a bribe
to help someone illegally obtain a visa. In 2002, two
locally hired CIC employees were fired in New Delhi after
recommending favorable decisions for their relatives. End
Canada,s Visa Issuing Process
7. (U) Canadian non-immigrant visas come in only three
types: tourist, student, or worker visas. Canadian officers,
however, have a wide variety of choices for rejecting these
non-immigrant visa applicants. The most often cited reasons,
according to Carter, for rejection are "insufficient funds"
or "lack of bona fides;" however, there is no overarching
reason for rejection equivalent to the United States, 214
(b). A Canadian officer writes notes on all of his/her
refusals and these notes are stored in the CAIPS computer
system for two years. During this time, all other
adjudicating officers can view these notes. There is no time
restraint on reapplying and an applicant has the right to
reapply for a visa immediately if he/she desires.
8. (U) Canada,s process for immigrant visas differs from
the non-immigrant visa process. The immigrant visa process
involves a point system in which candidates receive points
for meeting certain criteria (5 points for a high school
diploma, 24 points for speaking both French and English, 10
points at the discretion of the interviewer, etc.). Once an
applicant reaches the 75-point threshold, he/she qualifies
for the immigrant visa. The rejection notes for immigrant
visas are kept for five years, three years longer than
non-immigrant visas.
9. (U) It is not unusual to have a high discrepancy between
the visa rejection rate of an American mission and a Canadian
mission located in the same country. In Albania, for
example, the U.S. rejection rate is close to 70% while the
Canadians reject only about 40%. This is most often the
case, although not the rule: American visa rejection rates
are usually higher than their Canadian counterparts. Carter
theorized that this discrepancy might occur because, at many
Canadian consulates, a secretary acts as an initial vetter
for applications and tells those with no chance not to waste
their money. This eliminates many potential rejections and
deflates the Canadian rejection average as compared to the
U.S. average. It should also be noted that Canada,s refusal
rate has been consistently climbing over the last few years.
Statistics furnished by CIC show that the refusal rate for
visitor visas to Canada this year are 3.5% higher than last
year and student visa rejection rates are up 4.2 % over 2002
Security Measures
10. (U) According to Carter, the Computer Assisted
Immigration Processing System (CAIPS) is not directly
connected to any type of security lookout list. There is,
however, a domestic lookout system called the Field Operation
System (FOS) that is maintained by CIC. Adjudicating
officers can perform security name checks using this FOS
system. Carter said that there are plans to integrate FOS
into CAIPS by 2005 so that the two will no longer be separate
systems. Since FOS is not integrated with the databases of
either the Canadian Security and Intelligence Services (CSIS)
or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), its usefulness
as a security mechanism is not fully developed. Carter was
not aware of any plans to consolidate these agencies,
databases in the way that databases were combined in the U.S.
after September 11th.
11. (SBU) One of the larger security changes that CIC
adopted following September 11th was reducing the number of
countries that qualify for the Canadian visa waiver program.
A few years ago, Canada allowed a great many more countries
to travel visa free than did the United States. The
differences between the two countries have narrowed over the
past few years; however, many of the countries that Canada
has removed are considered by the U.S. to be relatively
insignificant security threats. After significant U.S.
pressure, Canada did recently remove Saudi Arabia and
Malaysia from its visa waiver program; however, there still
remain some significant differences between the U.S. and
Canadian visa waiver programs. Most significantly, citizens
of Greece, Mexico, and Korea are allowed to travel to Canada
without a visa. Carter said that Canada realizes how
concerned the U.S. is about these three countries being on
the visa waiver program. He said that there have been some
discussions about removing these three from the program, but
he did not have any information regarding their imminent
removal. Carter was able to report that Costa Rica, the last
country in Latin America able to travel visa free, would be
removed from the visa waiver program shortly.
12. (U) Comment: Communication and cooperation between the
United States and Canada on visa procedures have improved
over the last few years. The Canadians appear to be
sensitive to U.S. concerns and are beginning to take steps to
alleviate them. The increase in Canada,s visa rejection
rate and the decrease in the number of countries on the visa
waiver list are steps in the right direction. Canada,
however, still has much left to do to reassure U.S.
authorities that the country is not being used as a Trojan
horse by aliens whose ultimate goal is to bypass U.S. visa
requirements on their way into the United States. Three
significant actions that Canada should undertake are: 1) to
reduce the level of responsibility currently enjoyed by its
locally hired staff; 2) to create a consolidated database
system that allows its Foreign Service Officers to do
thorough security name check searches on applicants; and, 3)
to remove Greece, Korea, and Mexico from its visa waiver
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