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Canada and the United States share the world’s longest undefended border. It is now estimated that over 200 million individuals cross the border each year. Unfortunately, many Canadians do not make adequate preparations before traveling into the United States. As a result they are often detained for hours and then refused entry. When a senior family member is refused entry it often leads to the cancellation or rerouting of the entire family vacation.

The most popular reason why Canadians are refused entry into the U.S. is because they have a criminal record. If you have a criminal record, no matter how minor or how long ago the offense was committed, you can be refused entry into the United States.

Under U.S. law, a Canada pardon issued by The National Parole Board of Canada is not recognized for the purpose of entering the United States. However, if a pardon is granted prior to you being stopped and interviewed by U.S. Customs and Border officials, you may be able to enter. This is because the record of your offense may no longer be accessible by U.S. Customs and Border officials. However, if you admit to having received a Canadian pardon or there is any trace evidence left on CPIC, you could still be denied entry and/or forced to come back with your Pardon Certificate and court records.

As long as you have a criminal record U.S. Customs and Border officials can access the information through CPIC, (Canadian Police Information Centre), a centralized database that stores information about criminal charges and convictions in Canada. Upon accessing your criminal record U.S. Border officials can automatically download the information into an FBI data bank where it will remain indefinitely. All U.S. ports of entry have access to CPIC, and are connected to the FBI’s information gathering network.

According to Statistics Canada, nearly 10% of Canadians have a criminal record, including about 600,000 who have been charged with illegal marijuana possession. With a population of 31 million people this means about 3 million Canadians can no longer freely cross the border into the United States.

If you have a criminal record and have at some point been interviewed at the border, odds are you will now need a US Waiver or a Waiver of Ineligibility (also called an American INS Waiver). To inquire about getting a US Waiver of Ineligibility, you can contact your nearest U.S. Department of Homeland Security Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) port of entry. This should be done well in advance of making any travel plans that involve entering the United States. Currently it takes from 10 to 18 months for USCIS to process a Waiver of Ineligibility, depending on which US Department of Homeland Security office receives your application.

A Waiver of Ineligibility (American INS Waiver) is a seven-part document that must be submitted with RCMP Certified Fingerprints and Certified Court Records, well in advance of one’s intended date of entry. There are substantial fees involved (currently $585.00 USD) plus police fingerprinting, RCMP criminal record search and court record search fees.

For many Canadians, preparing a Waiver of Ineligibility (American INS Waiver) application can be a very time consuming and frustrating process. In fact, the first step in the process, which is to get a certified copy of your criminal record from Ottawa, can take up to 6 months if you are ink fingerprinted. For this reason, there are now electronic fingerprinting offices set up all across Canada that take and submit biometric fingerprints to the RCMP Civil Fingerprint Screening Services in Ottawa, which speeds up the processing times.

Another major delay in the processing of Waiver applications is the FBI background search. Because the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division is now receiving over 50,000 sets of fingerprints each day, it is now taking them 4 to 6 months to process them.

Another thing that is slowing the system down is the large number of people who are trying to obtain a US Waiver on their own but who make mistakes on their application. Each time an application contains errors and/or omissions USCIS staff have to prepare and mail out a letter to the applicant explaining the problem and the solution. On average it takes 3 months to receive such a letter, and another 3 months to resolve the situation.

According to the wide gap in the amount of applications received by USCIS offices as opposed to those successfully processed, many people who have applied on their own have fallen victim to what seems to be a system that was designed to confuse and infuriate applicants.

Ultimately, this has resulted in the applicant giving up and making alternate travel arrangements. Of course one can always find a lawyer to prepare the Waiver application, however, for most people the high cost is prohibitive.

Professional assistance at a reasonable cost can be found in a small but growing number of paralegal firms located across Canada. One such firm is called Canada Pardons & US Waivers, a paralegal firm based in Edmonton that specializes in preparing Canada Pardon Applications and U.S. Entry Waivers (Waivers of Ineligibility).

Shawn Corey, Communications Director of Canada Pardons & US Waivers says, “We set up a secure online system that makes it very easy for someone to apply for a Canadian Pardon or a U.S. Waiver, depending on whether or not they have been refused entry into the U.S. in the past. Our staff is very knowledgeable and works hard to see that each application is prepared in the best possible way, in order to achieve the best result.” Canada Pardons & US Waivers also has a tracking system that tracks each application and prevents delays if and when the application process changes due to ever increasing security precautions.

Delays are very common when people try to prepare an application on their own without doing their homework. Shawn Corey says, “Every week we receive Canada pardon and U.S. waiver applications from people who started to apply on their own but who gave up after seeing how complex and ambiguous the process is.”

Another big complaint is that it takes so long to gather all the documents needed. The reason for this is because the Federal Government systems in place are simply overloaded. One MP that has received dozens of complaints is John Reynolds, MP West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country. He says the Federal Government and the opposition are aware of the now 10 month backlogs at the Parole Board, and they are working to try and resolve the situation by working overtime and on weekends. In order to speed up the process, Canada Pardons & US Waivers has a one-stop service that uses biometric fingerprinting and a Commissionaire of Oaths to certify I.D. and other documents so that clients do not have to attend courthouses and their local police or RCMP detachments in order to obtain Court or Police Records.

Finding out that you need a US Waiver can be a traumatic experience. Shawn Corey says, “We’ve gotten many calls from people who tell us how they were taken off airplanes and told they weren’t welcome in the U.S. because they have a criminal record. Others get escorted from their vehicles, and after a lengthy interview they’re told they can’t enter without a Waiver.” In both cases border officials warn the person that if they try to enter the U.S. again they can be arrested and held in a CIS facility for up to 3 weeks. In fact, people trying to drive across the border without a waiver can have their vehicle seized along with its entire contents.

One horror story Shawn recalled involved a couple going to Las Vegas to get married. The couple had made all their reservations and had many family members and friends already checked into hotels. They also had 2 first-class flights out of Las Vegas to Hawaii, where they were to spend their honeymoon. Everything was going well until they got to the airport and tried to board their flight to Las Vegas. There the couple was stopped, interviewed and then told they couldn’t board the airplane. The couple pleaded with the U.S. Customs and Immigration officers telling them of all their travel plans, reservations, etc. but in the end they both went home, and then had to explain to their friends and family why they couldn’t attend their own wedding. To make matters worse, they found out later that they wouldn’t get a refund for some of the reservations they had made, which cost them several thousands of dollars. Homeland Security does allow emergency entry with what is called a Port of Entry Parole Permit, however, it is usually only granted to attend a funeral of an immediate family member or to obtain life-saving medical treatment.

As bad as this story sounds, it could have been even worse. Under new U.S. laws, any alien who attempts to illegally enter the U.S. can be held for up to 3 weeks in a CIS facility, without the right or privilege of contacting their lawyer. Any other occupants who are traveling with the illegal entrant can also be subjected to the same treatment. All visitors to the United States should be aware that the driver of a vehicle can be held responsible for the ineligibility of passengers, regardless of prior knowledge or association.

Shawn went on to say, “Oddly enough, people with DWI and/or Common Assault charges are usually allowed to cross, however any illegal possession of drug charges even from as far back as the 1970’s are flatly denied.” In a country where an estimated 600,000 people have been charged with illegal marijuana possession, this is not welcome news. Furthermore, with the United States’ No Tolerance Anti-Drug Policy it doesn’t matter how long ago the charge was or what amount the person was caught with. If your record shows an illegal possession of drugs charge, you can expect a 1.5 to 2 year wait before you can enter the U.S.

Since 9-11 many truck drivers are now being turned back because they have a criminal record. In many cases it has caused long delays in shipping company products, which has lead to lost profits and additional expenses.

One thing every air traveler needs to know is that the United States Government has imposed a requirement that all airlines operating flights into the United States collect detailed information from every passenger prior to boarding. The program is called the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS). APIS demands that all common carriers entering the U.S. collect information, which includes the passenger’s full legal name, gender, date of birth, nationality and travel document number. As a condition of travel, all passengers traveling into the United States, or in transit through the United States, must provide this information prior to boarding the carrier. APIS is part of the many increased security measures implemented by the United States after September 11, 2001. The information is provided to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Service well in advance of the carrier’s departure, which allows CBP officers to run the names of every passenger through CPIC. Anyone who appears to have a criminal record is taken to a CBP facility and thoroughly interviewed. Most passengers end up being fingerprinted, having their photo taken and then being denied entry and made to sign a Voluntary Withdrawal of Entry form, in order to avoid deportation.

If you have a criminal record and you have at some point been interviewed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection you will most likely require a Waiver of Ineligibility in order to legally enter the U.S.. If you are a do-it-yourself kind of person who is detail-oriented and can follow instructions provided by persons hired in part to prevent foreign criminals from entering their country, you can apply for a US Waiver by contacting a U.S.C.B.P. office or a Department of Homeland Security Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office serving your area. General information is available online, however none of their 1-800 numbers can be reached unless you are inside the U.S..

If you would like a licensed and highly trained paralegal professional to apply for a Canada pardon or US Waiver on your behalf, contact the very knowledgeable and friendly staff at Canada Pardons & US Waivers. They will be glad to help you.

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