Windsor

This woman entered the U.S. with an expired passport, but lawyer doesn't recommend trying it

Canada has been dealing with a backlog of passport applications. But an immigration lawyer says what happened with Amy Bjorkman won't necessarily happen to you.

Canada has been dealing with a backlog of passport applications

A woman stands outside, holding passport documents in front of her.
Amy Bjorkman shows the expired passport and accompanying documentation she used to enter the U.S. from Canada. A valid passport is required to enter the United States. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Amy Bjorkman found a unique way around Canada's passport backlog recently. She just crossed the border with her expired one. 

The Essex resident says she expected her passport would be renewed in time to attend a rock concert in Detroit on Aug. 14. But when it didn't arrive in time, she decided to try to cross anyway.

She and her partner crossed at the Ambassador Bridge the day before the event in case she was sent back. But she says despite not having an up-to-date passport — a requirement to enter the U.S. — the customs officer was very polite.

"I started telling him about how we're headed over early and he just told me to calm down and asked if it was my vehicle we were driving and what our plans were for the trip and he said have a nice time," said Bjorkman.

Bjorkman's unusual experience comes at a time when the federal government is grappling with a long backlog for passport renewals.

In August, the government opened four more locations to try to clear the backlog of thousands. It blames loosening travel restrictions compared to those at the height of the pandemic. 

When Bjorkman crossed, she had her proof of vaccination, a receipt showing she had applied for a new passport and a filled-out ArriveCAN app. On her return trip, she says the Canada Border Services Agency officer also accepted the expired passport on entering into Canada. 

"Coming back over he asked if we purchased anything other than hitting the duty free and a couple of groceries at Kroger. [He] just said 'Welcome home' when we came back," said Bjorkman. 

Immigration lawyer Eddie Kadri cautions not everyone would necessarily be as lucky as Bjorkman.

"If you don't have a passport that's valid, if you're in the process of extending it and it's taking longer than normal, you really need to understand that it's a crap shoot," said Kadri. 

"It depends on the officer you get, and if the trip is that important, then you might want to consider making it and explaining your circumstances. But understand that the risk [of being turned back] is there."

A woman's hand holds a piece of paper that says "receipt of passport renewal."
Amy Bjorkman holds the receipt proving she had applied for a new passport. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Windsor West NDP MP Brian Masse continues to call for the federal government to clear the backlog of passport applications that accumulated during the pandemic.

"Passport delays, backlogs and other border issues will continue to complicate cross border travel while impacting families, visitors and tourism until we establish a safe border task force to work proactively to deal with these issues." stated Masse in a written statement.

CBC News has reached out to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency for comment but haven't heard back at the time of publication. 

Bjorkman finally received her new passport on Sept. 14.

Canadians don't need a passport to re-enter Canada as long as they have proof of Canadian citizenship or residency status.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dale Molnar

Video Journalist

Dale Molnar is a video journalist at CBC Windsor. He is a graduate of the University of Windsor and has worked in television, radio and print. He has received a number of awards including an RTDNA regional TV news award and a New York Festivals honourable mention.

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