Canada’s Visa War

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Windows of the Parliament

Windows of the Parliament

The new is everywhere in the immigrants community: as of July 13th 2009, Canada imposed a visa on Mexico and Czech Republic nationals visiting the country.

Ottawa, July 13, 2009 — Beginning 12:01 a.m. EDT on July 14, 2009, Mexican nationals will require a visa to travel to Canada, Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney announced today. For the first 48 hours, Mexican citizens may apply for entry on arrival in Canada. After 11:59 p.m. EDT July 15, 2009, a visa will be required.

Ottawa, July 13, 2009 —Beginning 12:01 a.m. EDT on July 14, 2009, Czech nationals will require a visa to travel to Canada, Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney announced today. For the first 48 hours, Czech citizens may apply for entry on arrival in Canada. After 11:59 p.m. EDT July 15, 2009, a visa will be required.

The move was unilateral and very sudden. It was also somewhat unexpected and it is certainly huge troubles for the thousands of tourists that are now forced to apply for a visitor visa. About one hundred Mexicans with travel plans to Canada camped outside the Canadian embassy overnight Tuesday to get a chance to submit their visa applications, and it’s the same story in the Czech Republic.

Canada defends its position, saying Mexico and the Czech Republic are now the top two source countries for refugee claims, and that it’s spiraling out of control. Since the visa restrictions were lifted in 2007, nearly 3,000 claims have been filed by Czech nationals, compared with less than five in 2006. And Mexican nationals represented 25 per cent of all claims received in 2008.

Both countries are angry with Canada’s sudden move. While the Czech Republic, which is a member of the European Union, can not unilaterally impose a visa requirement on Canadians, I was wondering if Mexico was likely to impose a visa requirement on Canadians. Officials say they will not, but you never know when a “visa war” starts.

Over 90% of the refugee claims from Mexican nationals are rejected, because these claimants are economic migrants from the middle class and do not qualify as asylum seekers. As for the Czech Republic asylum seekers, most of them are Romas (Gypsies). While it is not questioned that they are suffering from various forms of discrimination, it does not necessarily qualified them as refugees according to the international definition.

Applying for a visitor visa is notoriously tricky, since applicants must demonstrate their visit to Canada is temporary, that they will not overstay their time in Canada, that they have enough money to cover their stay in Canada, that they are in good health, that they do not have a criminal record, and are not a security risk to Canadians. These requirements are sometimes very subjective… leading to a possible refusal, with no chance of appeal.

As a traveler myself, I see these visa restrictions as huge burdens. I can imagine Mexicans and Czech’s frustration as they are trying to apply for visa, just wanting to visit Canada.

But as a former immigrant, I can somehow understand Canada’s bold move. Canada has a pretty good immigration system. You can apply in a few categories, such as the skilled worker category or the family class. The refugee system was designed to Canada “offers refugee protection to people who fear persecution or whose removal from Canada would subject them to a danger of torture, a risk to their life or a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment“. Mexico nationals and Czech Republic’s Roma may face issues in their home country, but most of their refugee applications are doomed to fail, because the system was simply not design to let the victims of social issues in.

Most countries which have a refugee system label a number of countries as “safe”, which means that applications coming from these countries’ nationals are not even considered. For example, some countries don’t consider applications from French, British citizens etc. which sounds pretty logic. But Canada will process refugee claims as long as the person reaches the port of entry. Hence the initial problem… Officials report that on flights from Prague, sometimes all the passengers would make a refugee claim upon arriving in Canada!

In my opinion, prospective immigrants should be educated about their options, and some major changes in the refugee system would help too. Meanwhile, we will just have to deal with travel made more difficult… which is too bad.

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French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

6 Comments

  1. oh wow. I hate visa wars and the fact that I have to apply visa to go to places. I totally understand Czech and Mexican people anger!

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