San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ticos Scramble for Canadian Visas

FOR some, it’s a sudden inconvenience and expense.For others, it is the closing of a door to a new life in NorthAmerica.While the latter may ponder for years to come theCanadian government’s decision to require visas for CostaRicans, the former have spent the last week scrambling tocomply with the new rules before flights to weddings andgraduations, conferences and schools.Costa Ricans were given just 24 hours notice about the visarequirement. Arriving in Canada without one means beingtold to get back on the plane, according to Canadian officials.HUNDREDS of Ticos this week scrambled to gatherproofs of employment, statements from savings accounts,documents showing property ownership and letters of invitationfrom host family members or businesses – anythingto show they have no intention of staying permanently inCanada.Many waiting in line at the Canadian Embassy thisweek said they understood the immigration decision in lightof reports about the recent flood of Costa Ricans applyingfor refugee status in Canada.However, they criticized the lack of advance notice of the new requirement.“They should not have done it soquickly,” said Christian Muñoz, whoworks for the student exchange programAgencia de Viajes Colón.Muñoz said three students who weresupposed to travel on May 14 were notable to receive their visas in time. Hehopes they will be approved before classesbegin in Canada May 31.THE reason the changes were enactedso quickly was to prevent a rush of CostaRicans into Canada to exploit the systembefore an announced cut-off date, said TedMackay, political counselor for theCanadian Embassy. A one-day grace periodwas allowed for those already traveling(TT, May 14).However, some people waiting at theembassy questioned how much noticeembassy officials had themselves.“They are not prepared for this, theydon’t even have seats for us,” said JuanTobías Rosares, who waited for about anhour for his visa interview. Rosares and hiswife are taking a trip to the United States,but have plans to visit Niagara Falls inOntario for a day trip, and therefore needthe visas.ALTHOUGH people entering Canadafor less than 48 hours as part of an organizedtour do not have to pay the visa-processingfee, without his tour documentationRosares will have to pay the $55 feefor a one-time visa.Travelers and business people whoplan to enter Canada on more than oneoccasion can apply for a multiple-entryvisa for $110, which lasts anywhere fromsix months to the expiration date on thetraveler’s passport.Officials are not worried about theimpact such fees will have on tourism toCanada.“I think if you want to go to Canada, orif you want to go to Costa Rica fromCanada, you have to pay the departure tax,so I think travelers generally figure that intothe cost of traveling,” Mackay said. “I don’tthink it will impact the tourism flow.”HOWEVER, Muñoz worries the visarequisite could reduce the number of studentswho go to Canada for language programs.“A lot of kids go to Canada to learnEnglish, since it’s too complicated to getvisas to the United States,” he said. “Butnow where will they go?”Yamileth Herrera also said the newrequisites will make her rethink future tripsto visit her daughter in Canada.“I usually go every year, but now that Ihave to do this every time, this trip couldbe my last,” she said.Herrera said in the last four years shehas had more and more problems enteringCanada. Her bags are often searched andimmigration officials at Canadian airportsquestion her extensively about possibleintentions to stay in the country permanently.This type of review has becomeincreasingly common, Mackay admitted,adding that this is one reason for the visas.Someone with a visa should have no problempassing through airport immigration,he added.LAST year, 1,837 Costa Ricansapplied for refugee status in Canada.They did so with the hope of being grantedpermanent legal status and some governmentaid, according to Mackay. Thenumber of such requests was up from 248in 2000 and amounts to 4,287 in the lastfour years.But most of those cases are unfounded,Mackay said.In fact, 99% percent of refugee claimswere rejected, according to the CostaRican Foreign Ministry. However, becausethe evaluation process is backlogged,Costa Ricans could stay in Canada for severalyears before a decision was made,according to Mackay.“If you have people claiming to berefugees who are not, it undermines thevalue of the refugee system. It is supposedto offer protection to legitimate refugees,”he explained.Furthermore, these numbers do notinclude the Costa Ricans who decided tostay in Canada, without claiming refugeestatus.MACKAY said the visa requirementwill put an end to coyote-type, human-traffickingbusinesses that promise desperateCosta Ricans new lives in Canada, chargethem large fees, and then leave themstranded when their refugee claims aredenied and they are deported to CostaRica.Costa Rica was fifth on the list ofcountries with the most refugee requestsin Canada, surpassed only by Pakistan,Colombia, China, Mexico and Sri Lanka.Mexico is now the only country inLatin America that does not have a visarequirement to Canada, according toMackay. Since December 2001, visaexemptions have been lifted for Grenada,Hungary, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia andMalaysia, among other countries.LIKE all Central American countries,visa decisions for Costa Ricans will bemade in Guatemala. Interviews are conductedin Costa Rica and documents arethen forwarded to Guatemala.Visa processing takes between fivedays and three weeks, according to theCanadian Embassy in Guatemala’s Website,

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