Last week I was given a tour of the Toronto Consulate to see first-hand how officials there handle applications for non-immigrant visas.
The consulate is the gateway to the United States for many permanent residents of Canada and many foreigners who are visiting Canada.
Canadian citizens don’t need a visa to visit the U.S. However, permanent residents of Canada and many foreigners do unless they are nationals of a country that is covered by the Visa Waiver Program.
Since March 17, 2003, even permanent residents of Canada who are from British Commonwealth countries must apply for a visa.
Applications can no longer be made on a walk-in basis.
Now, all visa-requiring foreign nationals and most permanent residents are required to book an appointment for a personal interview.
Permanent residents of Canada can apply by mail if they are under 14 or over 79, physically in Ontario, and are not citizens of Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, or Syria.
Appointments can be booked online at www.nvars.comfor a fee of $9.50 Cdn or by a “caller-pays” system at 1-900-451-2778. It takes about two months to get an appointment.
At the time of this writing, no appointments were available online. Prospective applicants are asked to revisit the page again when additional appointments might be released.
The Toronto Consul, Jeffrey Tunis, estimates that his staff approves about 90 per cent of the applications made by permanent residents and about 50 per cent of those made by foreigners visiting Canada. Frankly, I thought the second figure would be much lower since even the U.S. mission concedes that “it is generally more difficult for applicants to obtain visas when they apply outside their home country” since “consular officers in Canada may be unable to properly assess the circumstances of and/or evaluate foreign documents presented by applicants who are visitors in Canada.”
In 2001, the consulate issued 47,473 non-immigrant visas. This number dropped to 41,048 in the year following 9/11. However, in 2006, the consulate hit a 10-year record when it approved more than 50,000 such visas. According to Tunis, the demand for visas is at least double what his physical space and human resources allow him to process. The five U.S. citizen officers who decide the 250 applications the consulate receives each day only have a few minutes to review the paperwork, conduct the interview, and process the background checks needed to render each decision.
What was interesting about my visit to the consulate was that there was no evidence there whatsoever of any hardened post-9/11 attitudes. In fact, staff members appeared genuinely facilitative and welcoming of tourism to the United States.
Although this is not necessarily what I expected, the numbers clearly seem to bear them out.
Guidy Mamann practices law in Toronto at Mamann & Associates and is certified by the Ontario Law Society as an immigration specialist. Reach him confidentially at 416-862-0000 or at email@example.com