On his second state visit to Canada today, Mexican President Felipe Calderón will address easing visa restrictions for Mexican citizens seeking to enter Canada. The two-day trip will include a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, several governors and an address to the House of Commons, as well as meetings with several Canadian business representatives in Toronto and Montreal.
This trip comes nearly a year after Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced that Mexican citizens would require visas to travel to Canada. The reason: part of a strategy to reduce the growing number of what Kenney and Harper have called “bogus” refugee claims from Mexicans, which grew from 2,550 in 2005 to 9,309 in 2009. But Calderón’s personal lobbying efforts may not bear fruit soon. Canadian Minister of the Foreign Affairs Peter Kent reaffirmed yesterday that the restrictions will remain until Ottawa reforms the existing refugee system, a process likely to take a couple of years.
Calderón’s visit will focus on strengthening bilateral trade and investment as well as North American security. Harper announced plans last summer to send Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers to Mexico to provide basic training for their police force while bringing 32 Mexican commanding officers to Canada for leadership and investigative training. Calderón is expected to press Ottawa to expand their efforts to fight drug-related violence in Mexico.
At 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, a new Canadian law went into effect that requires Mexicans and Czech Republic nationals to obtain a visa prior to entering the country. Ottawa’s action comes in response to a dramatic jump in asylum applications, with Mexican refugee claimants tripling since 2005 and Czech asylum seekers reaching 3,000 applications in 2007, up from fewer than five claims in 2006.
Canadian and Mexican officials had been forcefully lobbying to overturn the decision since it was adopted a few months ago. Some experts are calling the visa requirement one of the most damaging foreign policy decisions made by Canada in recent times. Canadian immigration minister Jason Kenney defends the visa by explaining that the dramatic increase in claims is “creating significant delays and spiraling new costs in [Canada’s] refugee program” and “undermining our ability to help people fleeing real persecution.”
One sector that is fearful of the backlash is the tourism industry. Canadian tourism officials have asked for a delay of the ban until mid-November—July and August are some of their most lucrative months, with an average of 125,000 Mexican tourists visiting.
Canada has one of the most generous refugee systems in the world and accepts almost six times as many refugees and asylum seekers per capita as the United States.