According to the latest information released by Tourism Toronto, the number of visitors to the Toronto region in 2017 exceeded all previous records and was an exceptional year for the tourism industry. The Toronto region alone hosted more than 40 million visitors in 2017 which resulted in more than $8 billion dollars generated in the local economy in 2017 and the creation of at least thousands of jobs in the region.
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% by 2021.
- Double the number of tourists from China by 2021.
In order to achieve these goals, Canada has been increasing marketing efforts worldwide, including marketing programs aimed at Americans and millennials.
In addition, there are focused efforts to attract visitors from China which is one of the most lucrative sources of visitors. In fact 2018 has been named as the “Canada-China Year of Tourism” in the hope of meeting the goal of doubling tourists from China over the next three years.
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 allowing 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 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), Philippines (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 led 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.
We would like to hear from your feedback. Please send any immigration or citizenship questions that you would like addressed in future articles to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zeynab Ziaie is a graduate of the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto and a lawyer licensed to practice in Ontario and New York. Her legal practice focuses on immigration and business law. She often works with clients to find suitable solutions in complex immigration and citizenship cases and represents clients at all levels of court.