Where are these new visitors coming from and how has Canada's changing visa policies affected the growing tourism industry, not just in Toronto but across the whole country? In 2017 Canada introduced its New Tourism Vision with three clear goals:
- to become one of the Top Ten most visited countries in the world by 2025.
- Increase the number of international overnight visits to Canada by 30 per cent by 2021.
- Double the number of tourists from China by 2021.
The other requirement in order to meet these goals is to increase access to the country. Canada has taken steps to lift visa requirements from more countries: for example as of 2017 Mexicans can travel to Canada without a visa. The electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) program has been expanded that allow easy processing and tracking of visitors from visa exempt countries. In addition Canada is growing its network of visa application centres (VACs) that take in visitor visa applications around the world: in China alone the they are opening 7 new VACs to process even more applications.
Increased access to Canada has also been made possible by Canada's decision to issue multiple-entry visas beginning in 2014 that are valid for the duration of your passport. In countries where passports are valid for 10 years that means the visitor can make repeat trips to Canada over the course of a decade. All of these visa measures have resulted in increased number of visitor visas being issued than ever before and in 2016 Canada issued 1,261,515 multiple entry visas. And while Chinese applicants received the most visas (350,949 in 2016), the other countries rounding out the top five are India (148,109), Brazil (61,546), Philipines (34,946) and Iran (16,754). It is also interesting to note that these figures have increased dramatically over the last few years: for example the number of visas issued to Iranians more than doubled from 7,780 in 2014 to 16,754 in 2016.
However, the increased number of visa applications has not gone unnoticed and Canada's immigration authorities are becoming aware of potential problems such as increased fraud in applying for a visitor visa or using your visitor visa to circumvent immigration laws. When a person applies for a visitor visa they have to demonstrate that they have the necessary financial means and that they have strong connections to their home country and will be leaving Canada after their short stay. While the number of investigations has not yet been released by Canada's Immigration authorities, the submission of fraudulent bank letters, title deeds and work documents has lead to a slowing of visa applications and a greater number of refusals. For example the current average processing time for a visitor application in the Ankara visa office is now more than 100 days where as it was previously only a few weeks. Therefore visa offices around the world are now taking extra precautions in reviewing applications and issuing visitor visas.
I am contacted everyday by people who have travelled to visit Canada with questions about what they are permitted to do as visitors and what options are available to them in order to apply for immigration and make Canada their home. Over the next few weeks I will be writing more about this topic and the important factors you have to consider in applying for a visitor visa, your duties, obligations and rights as a visitor, and whether you may be able to apply for immigration.