Ottawa should review its 2009 decision to impose a visa requirement on all visitors from Mexico, a major trading and tourism partner.
This cumbersome process, though justifiable in the short term to deter bogus refugee claimants, has served its purpose. It now risks doing long-term damage to Canada's bilateral relationship with Mexico, and our ability to attract tourists and reciprocal investment.
When the visa was introduced, Prime Minister Stephen Harper acknowledged that Canada's broken refugee system was behind the change. Mexico had become Canada's number-one source country for asylum claims, with 9,322 in 2009, a number that decreased to 1,299 last year.
Since then, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has introduced legislative changes to address weaknesses in the refugee system, including overly long wait times for hearings and a poor record on removals. More reforms are expected - and needed.
In the meantime, Mexicans must spend days tracking down detailed documentation for their visa applications, including pay stubs, vehicle registration documents, marriage and birth certificates and old passports. The photograph alone has 16 specifications. It may not be underlit, overlit, washed out, display a frown or smile - and on the list goes. The fees are also excessive. For a family, the cost is $400. Each time a passport expires, Mexicans must reapply.
These measures might be acceptable if Mexico were a rogue state, and not a hemispheric partner and essential link in the production chain for some of Canada's largest multinationals "We want to encourage Mexicans to holiday here, send their children to university here, and invest here. A set of visa restrictions even more onerous than those the U.S. imposes simply makes no sense," says Jennifer Jeffs, president of the Canadian International Council.
The number of Mexican visitors to Canada decreased by 36 per cent in 2009. Several prominent Mexican businessmen have been denied entry, along with a Mexican Supreme Court judge and a world-renowned chef. Mexico's belief that it enjoys a special relationship with Canada has been dealt a serious blow - though it has not retaliated with a reciprocal visa imposition for Canadians, likely because of the importance of Canadian tourism to its economy.
With the concern over bogus Mexican refugee claimants now abated, and further immigration reforms to come, Canada should streamline the visa process, and once it cleans up its own act, eliminate it altogether.