21 July 2009

Visa demands will be costly, Mexicans say

Cdn. Ambassador to Mexico
Cdn. Ambassador to Mexico, Guillermo Rishchynski, speaks with reporters on the Canadian decision to impose visa requirements on Mexican travellers to Canada.

From the Ottawa Citizen

By David Agren
July 20, 2009

Adriana Arriaga, 28, fiddled with her iPhone and leaned impatiently along a metal barricade on a recent morning, while waiting for an entry visa outside the Canadian embassy in a posh district of the Mexican capital. A university graduate who speaks English well and works in a family medical-supply business, she booked a five-day junket to Toronto, Montreal and Niagara Falls last month and was scheduled to leave on Sunday.

She cited "Canada's natural beauty," as her main motive for heading north, but acknowledged that the ease of travelling to a country that imposed no visa restrictions on Mexicans also factored into her buying decision.

"You feel so much more welcome and respected," Arriaga said of the ability to travel without a visa. "It really gives you more of an incentive to go."

That incentive ended on July 13, when the Canadian government announced new visa requirements on Mexican travellers due to a flood of refugee claims from the Latin American country -- 89 per cent of which have been deemed invalid over the past five years.

Visa-free travel had been Canada's calling card in Mexico ever since NAFTA went into effect and been the foundation of successful promotional campaigns that have made Canada one of the preferred vacation and education destinations for Mexican travellers and students.

Past promotional efforts have included a popular education fair known as EduCanada that has toured the country for more than a decade, attracting up to 15,000 potential students each year. The Canadian Tourism Commission even imported a sappy teen telenovela (soap opera) called Rebelde to the Canadian Rockies in 2005 to film a week's worth of episodes.

Roughly 261,000 Mexican tourists visited Canada last year, according to Canadian officials. Kurt Schroeder, sales and marketing director for Banff Lake Louise Tourism, whose region benefited from the Rebelde campaign, called Mexico "one of Canada's bright spots for inbound visitors."

Other Canadian initiatives such as eliminating all visa requirements for those studying in Canada for less than six months and the continued expansion of a successful program for allowing agricultural workers to work in Canada have reinforced positive perceptions of Canada in Mexico -- and appeared to move in the opposite direction of the U.S., which has been tightening restrictions on travellers and beefing up security on its border with Mexico.

"For the last decade, trips to Canada, for work, pleasure or business, were very easy and taken for granted," said Marcela Lopez, a doctoral student in Canadian studies at University of the Americas in Puebla.

Imposing visa requirements on Mexican travellers, she said, "has injured the (Canada-Mexico) relationship."

The sudden decision to impose visa requirements has been poorly received in Mexico, where newspapers have run indignant front-page stories of long lines forming in the predawn hours outside the Canadian embassy and travellers facing the prospect of missing their flights.

The seemingly clumsy implementation of the program -- Arriaga called the visa application process "disorganized" -- and complaints that Canadian officials failed to fully explain the process to those needing travel documents only fuel the discontent.

The dissatisfaction and the long lines for visas show just how significant Mexican interest in Canada is, says Mexico City-based immigration consultant David Mendez, whose business sends students to study in foreign countries. He says that only the U.S. and Spain are more popular as destinations than Canada for Mexicans.

He predicted that over the long term, the new rules would be felt more in Canada, where an industry has mushroomed to serve Mexican students, than in Mexico.

"Thousands of jobs in Canada depend on Mexican students," he said.

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