Calderon lobbies Canada to drop visa requirement
By CHARMAINE NORONHA (AP)
May 27, 2010
TORONTO—Mexican President Felipe Calderon urged the Canadian government on Thursday to reconsider its controversial visa requirement for Mexicans traveling to Canada, a rule that has caused friction between the North American Free Trade partners.
Canada imposed the visa requirement last year in response to what it said was a spike in the number of false refugee claims by Mexicans.
“I have reiterated our concern about this to Prime Minister Harper because of the events that led to this. Similarly, I told him that the government of Mexico is willing to work together in order to overcome this situation,” Calderon said during the first day of a two-day visit to Canada to discuss trade and tourism.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said a bill on reforming the refugee act is before Parliament. But Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said it will be a year or more before Canada can lift the visa requirement, after Canada's flawed refugee system is fixed.
“The important thing is that the issues are being addressed and I believe and hope it will be overcome as soon as possible,” said Calderon.
The Mexican leader said the number of Mexicans visiting Canada has dropped by 40 percent since the visa rule was implemented.
“There are real costs to Canada on implementing a visa,” said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a conference with the Mexican leader. “False refugee claims have affected our friendly relations with some countries, including Mexico.”
Canada and Mexico share more than just a continent. The pair share a strong bilateral trade relationship since signing the Free Trade Agreement a trilateral trade agreement with the U.S. that reduced or eliminated regional trade barriers almost 20 years ago. Canada and Mexico now exchange approximately $26 billion in two-way trade a year. Mexico is Canada's fifth most important merchandise export destination.
When Canada imposed the visa requirement, the government said it was the only way to curb refugee claims from Mexico, which it said had almost tripled since 2005, making it the top source country for claims for refugee status in Canada.
Kenney said only 11 percent of Mexican claims processed by the Immigration and Refugee Board in 2008 were accepted.
The immigration minister said Thursday that said asylum claims from Mexico are down 90 percent in the last year, saving taxpayers $380 million.
Cross-border mobility is a sensitive issue for Mexicans, who face expanding efforts in the U.S. to keep out illegal immigrants.
President Calderon addressed a joint meeting of Congress earlier this month, where he pushed for immigration changes, spurred mainly by a new immigration law in Arizona. The law, set to take effect July 29, will order police to question anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally.