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Minister of Public Safety Dominic LeBlanc speaks at a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Sept. 7, 2023.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Mexico’s government said Wednesday it recognizes Canada’s concerns about the throngs of Mexican asylum seekers in Canada as Ottawa weighs imposing a visa requirement on citizens of that country.

Canada is considering immigration measures on visiting Mexicans after Quebec Premier François Legault urged Ottawa to slow the influx of refugees that he said are straining the province’s resources.

“Mexican nationals represent a growing proportion of the asylum seekers arriving in Quebec, the possibility of entering Canada from Mexico without a visa certainly explains part of the flow of asylum seekers,” Mr. Legault said in the letter last week. Nearly 60,000 asylum seekers – including Mexicans – were registered in Quebec in the first 11 months of last year, he wrote.

The Immigration and Refugee Board has reported a surge in refugee claims by Mexicans arriving in Canada, rising to 17,490 claims in 2023 from 250 in 2016. IRB statistics show only a fraction of these claims have been accepted.

In a statement, Mexico’s foreign affairs secretariat said it met with Canadian officials in December to address Ottawa’s concerns about the flow of refugee claimants. The secretariat said the two countries agreed on measures to address the matter and noted asylum applications from Mexicans in Canada dropped in December.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc told CBC News last Sunday that Ottawa is considering measures including visas to “ensure that people who arrived from Mexico arrived for the appropriate reasons and that this doesn’t become sort of a side door to get access to Canada.” No decision has been made.

Mexican refugee claims in Canada have jumped since 2016 when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government scrapped a requirement for Mexican visitors to obtain visas before travelling here.

Laura Macdonald, a Carleton University professor of political science, said the last time Canada imposed a visa requirement on Mexican travellers – in 2009 under the Harper government – it had a “devastating impact on that relationship that we’re almost just recovering from at the moment.”

She said the last time the visa requirement was enacted, “the Mexicans took it as a major insult.”

She said Mexico and Canada will need to work together closely if Donald Trump wins the 2024 U.S. presidential election. In 2017, Mr. Trump forced a renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement on terms that he felt benefited the United States and his continued protectionist rhetoric suggests he could once again upend trade relations on this continent.

“We need to work together. If he divides and conquers us, we’re in big trouble,” she said of Mr. Trump. “So this is a really critical moment in that relationship.”

Laura Dawson, executive director of the Future Borders Coalition, a business alliance on easing trade restrictions, said a simple solution would be for Canada to permit entry to Mexican visitors who already hold a valid U.S. non-immigrant visa, such as a visitor or tourist visa.

She noted Canada already follows this policy for travellers from Argentina, Brazil and Costa Rica.

“This way, Canada can have greater certainty that travellers from Mexico have been vetted by a trusted authority, and Mexicans will not have an additional burden of compliance, since most legitimate Mexican travellers who come to Canada will most likely already be U.S. visa holders,” Ms. Dawson said.

Official Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre, however, on Wednesday called on Ottawa to reimpose visa requirements on Mexicans.

“In 2016, the Trudeau government lifted visa requirements on Mexico that the previous Conservative government introduced, leading to increasing fraud and abuse in the asylum system, straining Canada’s ability to provide services and creating long processing delays for legitimate asylum seekers before the Immigration and Refugee Board,” Mr. Poilievre said in a statement.

“Moreover, there are serious concerns about the involvement of organized crime, using the system to engage in human trafficking,” Mr. Poilievre added.

Mexico’s foreign affairs secretariat said in its statement it wants to identify solutions to address what it called legitimate concerns from Canada and provinces without interfering in the orderly movement of people between the two countries.

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