Duration of visits need clarification

Clearer visas anyone?

By Guidy Mamann: It is rare that a week or two goes by without me seeing a foreigner who has innocently overstayed their visitor’s status in Canada simply because they didn’t understand how much time they were given to stay here.

Many travelers do not know whether it is the visitor’s visa or the port-of-entry stamp which determines the duration of their stay here. This problem is compounded by the lack of any clear written explanation accompanying either of these important authorizations.

A Canadian visitor’s visa is issued by our embassies, consulates, and high commissions outside of Canada to those who are required by our laws to apply for one before visiting Canada.

The visas are square and brownish in colour and are glued to passports. These visas have a date of issue and a date of expiry. The visa merely authorizes the visa holder to appear at a Canadian port-of-entry before the expiry date shown on the visa to request permission to visit our country. A single entry visa allows the person to seek admission once before the expiry date. A multiple entry visa allows the holder to seek admission multiple times before the visa expires.

The visa does not guarantee admission to Canada nor does the expiry date on the visa determine how long the person will get to stay here. It is the officer at the port-of-entry, not the officer at the visa post, who decides if the person will be allowed to enter Canada and, if so, for how long.

If the port-of-entry officer believes the visa holder should be allowed into Canada he/she will stamp the passport. It is this stamp which authorizes the visitor’s entry and determines how long the visitor can stay. The stamp alone allows the person to visit Canada for 6 months. However, the port-of-entry officer can shorten this period by specifying an earlier date, by pen, just below the stamp. This is the date the person must leave Canada unless they have applied for an extension prior to that date.

Many visitors mistakenly believe that they must leave Canada before the expiry date shown on the sticker in their passport. This is not correct. Also mistaken are those who hold multiple entry visas, say for five years, who think they can remain in Canada continuously for that entire time.

Overstaying one’s visit to Canada can lead to an arrest without warrant, detention, a one-year exclusion order, and future difficulties in securing visas and admissions to Canada. Those who overstay less than 90 days can apply for restoration of status. Those who stay longer can’t.

Given that our laws carry significant consequences for those who fail to leave on time, it behooves our immigration department to insert simple language in its visas and port stamps explaining their terms.

Visas can include a simple statement such as “You may appear at a Canadian port of entry at anytime before [date] to have you admissibility to Canada and the duration of your stay determined.”

Our port stamps should be amended to say in every case: “Authorized to visit Canada until [date]”.

These simple changes can save innocent visitors considerable grief and can save the department a lot of enforcement costs in situations which needed nothing more than a simple and timely explanation.

Guidy Mamann practices law in Toronto at Mamann & Associates and is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as an immigration specialist. Reach him confidentially at 416-862-0000 or at .

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