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.