Prime Minister Stephen Harper should lift Canada's visa requirement on travellers from Mexico. It is a needless irritant to Canadians and Mexicans trying to do business.
On July 13, 2009, Jason Kenney, who was then minister of immigration, imposed a visa requirement on travellers from Mexico and from the Czech Republic. The reason he gave in both cases was a sudden increase in numbers of asylum-seekers whose claims for refugee status proved to be unfounded. Three thousand Czech asylum-seekers had turned up in the preceding two years, and half of them withdrew their bids without awaiting a formal decision, which persuaded the minister they were bogus claims. In 2008, more than 9,400 Mexicans sought asylum in Canada and only 11 per cent were accepted.
The Harper government lifted its visa requirement for Czech travellers last fall in order to win its long-sought free trade agreement with the European Union. The EU had objected to Canada's visa for Czechs from the start and it became clear there would be no free trade agreement while the visa remained.
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said, in lifting the Czech visa, Canada had taken a second look at the Czech Republic and found it qualified for visa-free access to Canada. He did not, however, say how Czech law and policy had changed in the meantime. Canada, he explained, had also changed its refugee-determination process so bogus refugees would be swiftly removed.
During Mr. Harper's brief and unproductive visit in Mexico this week, Mexican President Enrique Pe±a Nieto told journalists he understood the reasons Canada was continuing its visa for Mexican travellers and he thanked Mr. Harper for his willingness to continue the dialogue in the hope of eliminating the visa in the future. Mr. Harper said the visa was a non-negotiable sovereign matter and Canada had to continue its Mexican visa requirement because of security and illegal-migration concerns.
Since President Peña understands Mr. Harper's reasons, he should look for a chance to explain them to puzzled Canadians. Mr. Harper now thinks it is a problem of security. Does he mean spies and terrorists, or something else? In July 2009, his minister thought it was a matter of providing more efficient service to other refugee claimants, but that explanation has now disappeared.
It is idle to say the visa is a sovereign matter and not a subject for negotiation. The Czech visa was an issue in the free trade negotiations with the European Union and was resolved in that context. The claim it was lifted for other reasons is mere evasion. The supposed improvements in management of refugee claimants, if they were really a factor, should equally serve to resolve the Mexican case.
Mexico is a continental neighbour and an important trade partner for Canada. It offers far more potential for Canadian trade growth than the Czech Republic. The visa restriction on Mexicans is obstructing students, tourists, investors, merchants, professionals and others who would contribute to the growth of both economies. It also sends an insulting message that Mexicans are not welcome in this country.
When it came time to drop the Czech visa, Mr. Harper had his officials take a second look. The time has come to take a similar second look at Mexican conditions.