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Visa requirement still rankles with Mexican-Canadians

Salvador Alanis, president of The Bakery, a strategic marketing company based in Toronto, says the visa requirement imposed on Mexicans is costing Canada business opportunities.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Mexican-Canadians see Canada's visa requirement as a major stumbling block for business and investment, and are asking the federal government to consider either ending it or making it more user-friendly.

"Regarding the international trade between these two countries, the visa affects both sides. The need for a visa for a Mexican businessman could mean that a potential buyer of Canadian products will not visit Canada," says Salvador Alanis Luebert, a Toronto-based TV entertainment program producer. His company, The Bakery Communications, has 25 full-time and part-time employees.

As part of his TV productions, Mr. Luebert says, "I travel to Mexico each month and I know how complicated the Canadian visa system is." In January he invited two freelance TV editors/directors/photographers to Canada to consult on projects. Neither one could make the trip. In one case, Canadian officials said, a freelance photographer and editor didn't have a steady income. Another freelancer found the visa process too daunting after one attempt and refused to pursue his application, Mr. Luebert said.

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Many Mexican-Canadians are alarmed that Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has cancelled his official visit to Canada in June to protest the visa issue.

Ottawa introduced the visa requirement for Mexicans visiting Canada in 2008 after a surge in refugee applications. Under the new rules, Mexicans must produce original documents such as proof of income, employment, and real-estate ownership. A similar requirement on the Czech Republic, which has since been lifted, has left members of the Mexican-Canadian community asking: why us?

"Canada is sacrificing its third-largest business partner by being stubborn on the visa issue," said Mr. Luebert, who is also secretary of the non-profit Mexico-Canada Alliance for Commerce. "There's no security aspect involved. Canada is ignoring over 100 million Mexicans."

In a recent paper, Laura Dawson of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives argues that "visa barriers have quelled the desire to visit or study in Canada," citing a drop in tourism revenue from $365-million in 2009 to $200-million in 2012. Interestingly, the number of Mexicans living and working in Canada has almost quadrupled in the past 10 years, according to census figures, from 16,460 (1991) to 96,055 (2011).

Alfredo Lopez, an accountant with Manulife in Toronto who emigrated from Mexico City, says the fear of a refugee surge has been quelled by changes in immigration and refugee regulations that make it easier for Ottawa to weed out weak claims.

"My family has visited here earlier but since the visa was imposed in 2008, they haven't come to Canada even once," Mr. Lopez says. "They believe it is too much of a problem to get the Canadian visa and that they are not welcome here."

Hector Solaraz, another Toronto accountant also from Mexico City, agrees. "Many Mexicans prefer not to come than to go on submitting all kinds of documents to get the visa."

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Toronto lawyer Elke Rubarch resents having to submit copies of her T-1 and T-4 slips to prove her income in order to get a visitor's visa for her grandmother. She believes an affidavit about her income should be enough. "For me to get my grandmother, the Canadian authorities want me to have a medical insurance, and what really bugs me I have to send details of my income to Mexico by fax. I don't want to share details of my income, my husband's income, with anybody. I don't feel comfortable."

She said she would be satisfied if the visa was made more "user-friendly," but ultimately, she too would like the visa requirement to be scrapped.

Alexis Pavlich, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, disagrees that the visa requirement has in any way adversely affected tourism or trade between the two countries. He says "legitimate trade and travel is actually increasing."

Issuance of visas to Mexicans for tourism, business, and students has in fact increased by 10 per cent since 2009, he said.

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