Citizens of the Czech Republic can now travel to Canada for up to six months without a visa, after the federal government lifted a restriction brought in four years ago to curb the number of asylum claimants.
The visa requirement was seen as a complication in free trade talks with the European Union that led to an agreement known as CETA, which the Conservative government announced last month. The Czech Republic had signalled it might not ratify CETA unless the visa requirement was lifted.
But the Czech Republic "now meets the criteria for a visa exemption," Canada announced Thursday. The move is effective immediately.
"This obviously relates to the conclusion of the Canada-Europe comprehensive trade agreement, but also to the hard work that has been done on both sides," said Chris Alexander, Canada's Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Progress between the two countries had "restored trust to the point where this is the right thing to do, and we're very pleased to see the announcement," he added.
Canada considers several factors in lifting a ban, including the other country's own asylum claim process, the "integrity" of its travel documents, border management, human rights and bilateral relations.
The visa restriction was slapped on the Czech Republic and Mexico in 2009, with the Czech case spurred by a spike in refugee claims from the country's Roma community. Mr. Alexander said Thursday that "bogus asylum claims" led to the restrictions.
Canada has since overhauled its system for considering asylum cases with the goal of speeding up claims and deterring "abuse" of the system. Cases from a "Designated Country of Origin" (DCO) that "respects human rights" – the Czech Republic is one – are now considered quickly under a different program, with 93 per cent rejected, abandoned or withdrawn.
The Czech Republic is among 51 countries whose citizens do not require a visa to come to Canada for up to six months.
Mexican citizens still need a visa, a bone of contention with the country's ambassador to Canada. Two EU countries also still face visa restrictions: Bulgaria and Romania.
While Canada is working toward lifting visa restrictions on all three, a deal isn't close, Mr. Alexander said Thursday. "It has to be said the work with Romania and Bulgaria, as with our partners in Latin America, is not as far advanced as it was with the Czech Republic."
A decision to lift restrictions depends on several factors, he added, including the number of asylum claims and any ties those claims have to human trafficking and organized crime. "Those are the fronts on which we need to see progress before we're in a position to make the kind of announcement [with other countries] that we're making today," Mr. Alexander said.