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Mexican tourist Borris Frias takes a picture of his travel partners Noe Montano, left, and Erick Ruiz as they visit Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday July 14, 2009. The Canadian government announced in 2009 that Mexican Nationals will be required to have a visa when visiting Canada. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Mexican tourist Borris Frias takes a picture of his travel partners Noe Montano, left, and Erick Ruiz as they visit Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday July 14, 2009. The Canadian government announced in 2009 that Mexican Nationals will be required to have a visa when visiting Canada. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

How Canada's complex visa application deters would-be travellers Add to ...

Have you ever seen civilians being mistreated? Ever worked as a hospital administrator? What does your sister do for a living?

These are the details the federal government wants from people applying for a visa to visit. Canada has the most complicated visa applications in the world, and it annoys half the planet.

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“It is, I would say, a lot of useless information that goes against common sense,” Mexico’s new ambassador to Canada, Francisco Suarez Davila, said just after he arrived in June. “First step: let’s get rid of the useless information.”

In the process of trying to screen out security risks and asylum-seekers, the Canadian government has created a bureaucratic nightmare, and much of it cannot really be effective in protecting the country’s borders.

Right now, rotating foreign-service strikes are making the waits for visas much longer. Countries such as Mexico and the Czech Republic, hit with new Canadian visa requirements in 2009, would like them lifted entirely. Mr. Suarez argues that in Mexico’s case, a short list of basic questions, some info-sharing, and perhaps some harmonization with what the United States requires would work better.

People from the United States and Europe do not need visas. But people from most of the rest of the world do, including fast-growing emerging markets for trade and tourism.

Many countries in Latin America and Asia share Mr. Suarez’s complaints about the Canadian visa paper chase.

One Asian diplomat said it takes hours, even days to gather all the information for the forms. Latin American diplomats said they cannot understand why it is so much harder than applying to visit the United States. Most do not want to be quoted, because diplomats try to be, well, diplomatic.

“Canada is a beautiful country with excellent and friendly people and I can recommend it to every Czech tourist. But the truth is the application process is really complicated,” said Robert Tripes, the chargé d’affaires at the Czech embassy in Ottawa. “A lot of people prefer to choose another destination.”

The application documents for a Canadian visitor’s visa are about as detailed and complicated as the forms for applying for top-secret clearance with the government of Canada.

The security-clearance forms ask for more details about where the applicant lived and worked five years ago, as well character references. But the full set of visa-application forms (it varies for different countries) asks for more details about the person’s children, even if they are not coming on the visit – plus a series of vague, scattershot and bizarre questions that can lead to more inquiries if the answer is yes.

One question seeks to know if visa applicants have been “associated with any political party or other group or organization” that has advocated violence as the means to a political end or “been associated with criminal activity at any time.” If that were asked of Canadians, donors to all major federal parties could be singled out for further questioning.

Applicants are asked if they have ever witnessed the ill treatment of “prisoners or civilians.” Some applicants must list any work in a government job from mayor to civil servant to hospital administrator, or addresses and occupations of siblings. Mr. Suarez wonders why Canada wants to know when and where someone’s parents died. “They’re dead. Twenty years ago. Why do I have to give information?”

One Latin American diplomat said forms are routinely returned because applicants make mistakes. A large percentage are refused in the end. He has many examples of bank presidents, business executives, and scholars being turned down, he said. Canada has created multiple-entry visas that are good for 10 years, but many countries complain their citizens who apply can get only a one-time visa.

That’s obviously bad for trade and tourism – especially with emerging markets. For some countries, it is annoying enough that it colours diplomatic relations. Many are complaining. Some that do not require Canadians to get visas are hinting they might impose them.

But it cannot be terribly effective for security, either. Ottawa has responded to security concerns with a longer questionnaire and mind-numbing bureaucracy.

 

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