I bought a nonrefundable plane ticket for a flight from New York to Montreal on a short trip this week. Because what could possibly go wrong?
Plenty, as it turned out. Thanks to Canada’s visa waiver system which now applies to British citizens and those from the EU, I was turned back at La Guardia airport and find myself in a Catch 22 situation which couldn’t be resolved on the spot.
As soon as I received the email from Air Canada to check in for the flight the next morning, I jumped on it. But when I saw the question about my visa number I realised that as a Brit, I’d need to apply for a visa waiver. Never mind, it only cost seven Canadian dollars and the website said it took only a few minutes to come through.
Late that evening, with my flight now only hours away, I received an email saying the Canadian Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship service needed additional documentation to approve the eTA as the Electronic Travel Authorisation is known. For this, I had to sign onto a secure website and then link my application for the eTA to the site. Unfortunately though, once I’d managed to log on (this took time because the site kept throwing me off) it proved impossible to link my application. By this time it was 1 a.m
During the day, friends had sympathised with the delay, pointing out that it was Victoria Day, a public holiday in Canada. Surely everything would be fine before my flight at 10.45 a.m. Just to be on the safe side, as Immigration hadn’t specified which documents to provide, I sent a copy of my passport to the site, in case I’d made a mistake in my eTA application.
The next morning I decided that as the decision was still pending, I would go to the airport in the hope that the visa waiver would come through in time. While on my way, I checked the status update tool and saw that my application said “the criteria do not match.” The Air Canada agent at the departure desk made a lengthy phone call to Canadian customs office and was told that they had my application and I just had to wait. Seven minutes later, the flight closed and I’d missed my plane. With Memorial Day weekend coming up in the States, it would be impossible to fly on another day in the week.
I discussed the situation with my friend in Montreal and we agreed that I would apply a second time for an eTA (another $7) and if successful, would take the overnight bus there from New York.
I filled out the form while at the airport and after about an hour, the answer came through via the secure Immigration site. They informed me that – 40 years after I worked on the Montreal Gazette – I still had permanent residence status! But while this sounded like fabulous news, I couldn’t cross the border without a residence card. And as a permanent resident I couldn’t apply for an eTA. I now understood what the message meant about the criteria not matching. It was Catch 22. But at no point in this 24 hour nightmare did anyone from Canadian immigration call me about this contradictory situation.
If in future I do wish to apply for an eTA, I must fill out a form asking to voluntarily renounce my residency status and mail it to Canadian authorities. Had they never introduced this waiver in 2016, I’d still be in blissful ignorance about my residency status, because until then we Brits had free entry into the country where King Charles is also their head of state.
Basically, Canada loves me so much that they have allowed me to conserve my permanent residency for more than 40 years, but not enough to let me into the country!
Oh Canada. All I wanted to do was to spend three nights with a good friend in Montreal. I only hope that immigrants fleeing terror and economic misery have better luck with the Algorithm than I did.