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Mexico's president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper Wednesday on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Mexico's president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper Wednesday on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

immigration

Visa-free travel for Mexican visitors is in the works, PM tells president-elect Add to ...

Canada is working to reverse a controversial decision to impose visa requirements on Mexican visitors.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the pledge to his new Mexican counterpart, Enrique Pena Nieto, who visited Ottawa Wednesday just days before he is officially confirmed as president.

The 2009 move by Canada – an effort to curb bogus refugee claims – irritated the Mexican government. The president-elect raised the issue during one-on-one meetings with Mr. Harper on Parliament Hill and got a positive response from the Prime Minister.

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“We would ultimately like to see visa-free travel with Mexico,” Mr. Harper said. “But we… don’t want a re-occurrence of the problems we had in the past.”

The Prime Minister said the visa requirement was one of Canada’s only legal options at the time for responding to bogus claims, but under new federal legislation and policies, alternatives can be found.

In an opinion piece that ran in The Globe and Mail on Wednesday, the Mexican president-elect noted that “the 2009 decision to impose visa requirements on Mexican citizens was met with disappointment in our country.”

When Ottawa imposed the requirement for temporary visas for Mexican visitors, Citizenship and Immigration released statistics showing that the number of refugee claims from Mexico had increased from 3,400 in 2005 to 9,400 in 2008. It further noted that independent assessments of claims by the Immigration and Refugee Board produced an overall acceptance rate of 11 per cent for Mexican refugee claims.

Earlier this year, federal immigration reform legislation aimed at reducing the decision time for refugee claims received royal assent. The legislation allows Ottawa to list designated countries as places that do not normally produce legitimate refugees. Claimants from those countries will not have access to a new “Refugee Appeal Division” of the Immigration and Refugee Board. The measures are expected to take effect later this year.

“I do hope that once the new legislation is approved in the near future, we will be able to avoid this requirement,” Mr. Pena Nieto said.

The new federal restrictions on refugee claims coincided with the government’s expansion of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which Ottawa announced this month is now under review over concerns of abuse. Mexico provides the second largest number of temporary foreign workers to Canada per year, with 18,655 workers in 2011, up from 12,941 in 2005.

The president-elect’s visit comes a day after he met with President Barack Obama at the White House. In addition to discussing trade, Mr. Pena Nieto declared in Washington that he fully supports U.S. plans to reform immigration, which is a major bilateral issue between the United States and Mexico.

The incoming Mexican president officially takes office Saturday. His election victory in July marked the return to power of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, which led the country from 1929 and 2000.

Since the election, Mr. Pena Nieto has expressed an interest in opening the government-owned oil company Pemex to some private investment. However, he stressed in Ottawa that this does not mean he supports full privatization.

“I would like to see if it may be possible to get a legal change to ensure that – without privatizing state-run companies – it would be possible to have greater participation of the private sector in the development of infrastructure in order to develop our energy potential in Mexico,” he said.

As with his predecessors, the incoming president’s political agenda will be dominated in large part by Mexico’s deadly drug trade. Earlier this month, a former mayor of Tiquicheo – which is in a western region of the country known for drug-trafficking – was assassinated in public view. Maria Santos Gorrostieta had previously survived two previous assassination attempts.

It is estimated that 60,000 people have died in Mexico due to drug-related violence during the six-year crackdown launched in 2006 by outgoing Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Mexican presidents are elected to a single six-year term and cannot run for re-election.

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