Large numbers of people from Mexico and the Czech Republic have been coming to Canada and claiming asylum. Most such claims are eventually rejected so Canada is trying to “cut them off at the pass”, to use the language of Hollywood Westerns. A requirement that people arriving from those countries have a Visa has just been put in place

New visa requirements have taken the travel industry by surprise. Representatives of the hotel, restaurant and tourism industry from Quebec and Ontario told a news conference on Parliament Hill the lack of advance warning of the new visa requirement would have a domino effect that would imperil the prepaid holidays of thousands of tourists.

The requirements are being introduced to stem the tide of refugee claimants from Mexico and the Czech Republic. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Tuesday giving advance notice would have defeated the purpose of imposing a restriction because it would have led to a rush of asylum seekers to beat the deadline.

Some have been taken aback by the swiftness with which the requirements have been imposed. The announcement was made Monday, and by midnight Wednesday a visa will be required when Mexicans arrive in Canada. “I don’t argue about the visa,” Patrick said. “I’m not against that. I’m against the way they did it.”

Such a change could throw a serious wrench into travel plans for Mexicans coming to this province at the height of tourist season, with some left scrambling for visas. Travel Alberta hopes the new requirements won’t disrupt travel from Mexico, a primary market for tourism in Alberta. “This has been a surprise for us and certainly our guests from Mexico,” said Don Boynton, the executive director of corporate communication with Travel Alberta. “We’ll have to adapt to this new reality in an ever-changing marketplace of travel and tourism. Hopefully, we will not be disrupted.”

In 2007, Alberta had about 13,000 overnight visits by Mexicans, Boynton said. They spent roughly$10 million. Last year, Mexicana Airlines started direct flights from Mexico to Calgary and Edmonton.

One Calgary travel agent said new requirements could really hit the families of Mexicans living in Canada. Jorge Romberg, the owner of Magic Tours, said spouses, children and other family members who want to visit loved ones in Alberta may not qualify for visas. He said he doesn’t know what the requirements will be, but said people from other Latin American countries have to prove a certain level of solvency and finances. “Not everybody has the means to be approved for a visa,” Romberg said.

Kenney said the vast majority of Mexico’s refugee claimants are economic migrants from the middle class, and they must not be allowed to jump Canada’s immigration queue. Mexicans are the No. 1 asylum seeker to Canada, tripling to 9,400 from four years ago. But 90 per cent of those claims are rejected.

The Czech Republic is second with 3,000 claims, up from five in 2006 prior to the lifting of a Canadian visa requirement in late 2007. “In some of the flights coming from Prague, the majority of passengers are making asylum claims,” said Kenney.

Alberta has seen an upsurge in Mexicans who apply as refugees in this province (very few people from the Czech Republic applied as refugees in Western Canada).

Last year, from January to September, Alberta had 191 refugee referrals from Mexico, according to statistics from the Immigration and Refugee Board. That’s the highest number from any country and a substantial increase from 27 in 2005.

Fariborz Birjandian, executive director of Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, said new visa requirements will help weed out people who won’t qualify as refugees. Birjandian added his agency has been under pressure in the last number of years trying to handle the number of refugees coming to Calgary. But Birjandian warns that when one door is closed, those seeking asylum find other ways, such as smuggling, to get into Canada.