Most Canadians don’t realize it, but one of the things that make our lives much easier compared to the rest of the world is just how easy it is for a Canadian citizen to enter the United States. As the northern half of the world’s largest unprotected border, we enjoy a privileged “state of grace” when it comes to simply showing a passport and getting through to another country. In the past, before issues of terrorism became larger concerns, Canadians didn’t even need a passport; a driver’s license was often enough to simply drive across the border.
In the 21st century, things are a bit more strict, but still quite forgiving for Canadians. We don’t need visas for entry and are often not subjected to the same kind of scrutiny from customs or border guards as other nationalities once they see the passport. But that doesn’t mean that all Canadians have it easy. In fact, for some Canadians, entry into the USA is impossible without special measures in place.
America Tracks Convictions
American customs guards and border patrol, like other law enforcement organizations, have access to criminal records. This means that if they decide to do a background check, they will quickly find any criminal convictions a person has and, on these grounds, have the authority to revoke entry into the United States. This has occasionally proven to be a source of unpleasant surprise to Canadians with a past conviction who have been law abiding since then, but it is a legal right of such officers to exercise should they decide to.
So what can you do in a situation like this? Does this simply mean your only option is to hope US customs never decides to conduct a check on you? In reality, you do have a legitimate solution to this, and it is called an entry waiver.
Your Character Counts
A U.S. Entry Waiver can be valid for one, two or five years depending on how it is issued. Possession of this document will allow Canadians with criminal convictions—even ones with Record Suspensions—to enter the US regardless of what a computer check shows. However, a U.S. Entry Waiver requires a lot of information, and one of the important documents required to submit with an application is a character reference letter.
An entry waiver requires THREE character reference letters that are recent. A character reference letter is a document that is written by a friend, co-worker, employer, or another person in your life that clearly states who this person is, how long they have known you, and their assessment of your good behavior and law-abiding nature.
How to Get a Letter
It’s important that, for waiver purposes, you make sure that you have “safe” selections for people you would like to get a character reference letter from. The people you choose for character reference letters will also be examined, so any false addresses, contact details or even make believe people you choose to use for submission will be quickly found out. If they have their own criminal convictions, this will also reflect poorly on your submission.
Make sure that these are people who know you well enough to commit to writing their honest opinion about your character. For example, if your criminal convictions occurred when you were a teenager, and you have turned your life around, there’s no reason that any of your co-workers, relatives or other people you have an acquaintance with shouldn’t be able to furnish a proper character reference letter. Make sure that once the letter is written, there is a signature signed in ink to complete it, and once you have these letters, you can move on to the next steps in getting your entry waiver.