How one gymnast’s Olympic dreams may have been foiled by new Canadian visa rules

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How one gymnast’s Olympic dreams may have been foiled by new Canadian visa rules
As gymnasts from across the world gather in Montreal, one Mexican athlete has had to stay behind, airplane ticket in hand. It's all down to the federal government's recent decision to reimpose visas for Mexican nationals. As Gloria Henriquez reports, her dreams to qualify for a spot for this summer's Olympic games may be over as a result – Mar 8, 2024

As gymnasts from across the world gather in Montreal to compete in North America’s biggest gymnastics competition, the Gymnix International, a Mexican athlete had to stay behind, airplane ticket in hand, putting her dream to qualify for a spot in this summer’s Olympic games further out of reach.

Members of Team Mexico said they had hotels, flights and permission to enter Canada all in hand. But just a couple of days before their big trip, Canada imposed new visa requirements for Mexicans, turning their world upside down.

“The past few days have been filled with uncertainty,” says Esmeralda Martinez Andrade, coach-in-chief for the Mexican team.

On February 29th the federal government reimposed visas for Mexican nationals.

Before that, Mexicans only needed to apply for a digital travel document called eTA to come to Canada.

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But with the change, Immigration Canada says they revoked one million electronic travel authorizations (eTAs) issued to Mexican visitors and people had to start a new application that took longer to process and imposed new requirements.

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Immigration Canada says that Mexican citizens who hold a valid US non-immigrant visa or have held a Canadian visa in the past 10 years and are travelling by air on a Mexican passport will still be able to apply for eTA but those who do not meet the conditions will need to apply for a Canadian visitor visa.

“We were all like crazy, wondering what would happen,” Martinez Andrade said, adding that they rushed to apply for the new visa.

But they say the site crashed given the high demand.

“Some of us got it but several girls were left behind,” Martinez-Andrade said.

That includes one of the senior gymnasts, Cassandra Loustalot.

What makes matters worst, her coaches say, is that Loustalot was hoping to earn points in this competition that would count towards getting a spot in Mexico’s Olympic team heading to the Paris summer games.

Coaches say her visa application was refused.

Global News messaged Loustalot but did not hear back by deadline but her team said she was disappointed.

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“It’s very sad,” said coach Claudia Garza.

While they managed to form a team in the last minute, Team Mexico officials say not having Loustalot will take a toll on their performance.

Instead of having four members to make points, they can only count on three.

“We’re feeling the pressure to carry Mexico on our shoulders,” said Paulina Campos, a member of Team Mexico.

Francine Bouffard from Gymnix said they wrote to immigration Canada advocating for the Mexican gymnasts.

In an email to Global News, Immigration Canada said they couldn’t comment on particular cases but that event organizers who need help facilitating delegates’ entry to Canada and wish to register with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) can do so by completing the Notice of an International Event or Meeting form prior to the event start date.

“Organizers who register with IRCC will receive information on Canada’s visa and entry requirements and a personalized service to make sure they have the support they need to plan for their event,” the email read in part. “Every year, the department assists hundreds of events organizers through its Special Events Program.”

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