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Ottawa admits visa policy will hurt tourism Add to ...

Forcing Mexicans to get visitors' visas will hurt the Canadian tourism industry, the government admits in its own analysis of the policy change.

The federal government's sudden move in July to require visitors' visas from Mexicans forced travellers to scramble, but Immigration Minister Jason Kenney argued there would be little impact after a short transition period, noting citizens of most countries need a visa to enter Canada.

But a cost-benefit analysis included with the newly published visa regulations indicates the government believes it will hurt tourism in Canada, even if it lowers the burden of Mexican refugee claimants on social services and the courts.

"It is anticipated that the removal of the exemption from the [visitor-visa]requirement may impact Canada-Mexico bilateral relations as well as place a new burden on Mexican tourists and business travellers seeking to come to Canada," the analysis states.

"The removal of Mexico's exemption from the [visitor-visa]requirement is expected to have an impact on the Canadian tourism industry, although the current negative economic environment is already expected to put pressure on any growth."

Tourism businesses that sell to Mexican customers have been complaining the visa has caused a far larger drop in business than the recession.

"We have about 50 per cent cancellations, and now we don't have new bookings," said Alain Paquette, sales director for bus-tour operator Amerigo Tours Inc.

Mexicans can't make last-minute travel plans for Canada, Canada is no longer a lower-hassle choice than the U.S., and the visa move has generated an anti-Canadian sentiment in Mexico, he said.

The government's analysis does not estimate the cost of the impact on Canadian tourism. More than 270,000 Mexicans visited last year, but the government bases estimates of processing costs for the visas on an assumption that 150,000 will come now.

(An analysis of the visa requirements imposed at the same time on Czechs predicts a "low impact" on tourism.)

The government imposed the visa because the number of refugee claims by Mexicans rose from 3,500 in 2005 to 9,500 in 2008. Only a small portion succeed, so the government considers most to be "economic migrants."

The government estimates it will bring in about $90-million in visa fees from Mexicans over five years, but spend $180-million to $300-million in that period on additional costs, notably for the immigration department and RCMP to screen applicants.

It says federal and provincial governments are expected to save an unspecified sum on health care and welfare costs, the refugee tribunal system and court costs for appeals, and the costs of deporting failed claimants.

The change "will result in a shift of resources currently used for the removal of failed Mexican refugee claimants to high-risk individuals involved in serious criminality, organized crime and national security concerns," the analysis states.

Mr. Paquette, however, argued that the government should make changes to the refugee system if that's what it is concerned about, rather than target middle-class Mexican tourists paying $1,200 for a weeklong tour. "It's like taking a class of 40 and giving them all detention because of two bad kids," he said.

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