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Canada bringing back visa requirements for Mexican nationals to curb asylum seekers | CBC News



The federal government is reimposing some visa requirements on Mexican nationals visiting Canada, senior government sources tell Radio-Canada and CBC News.

The new rules will take effect on 11:30 p.m. ET on Thursday.

Quebec Premier François Legault has been calling on the federal government to do more to slow the influx of asylum seekers into his province. Last week, he said Ottawa should bring back the visa requirement for Mexican travellers.

“The possibility of entering Canada from Mexico without a visa certainly explains part of the influx of asylum seekers,” the premier wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

More than 25,000 Mexicans applied for asylum in Canada last year, making Mexico the top source of asylum claims, according to statistics from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. The number of backlogged claims from Mexico currently filed with the board sits at more than 28,000.

The U.S. government also has been asking Ottawa to bring back the visa requirement to curb a sharp increase in illegal crossings from Canada into the United States.

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Mexicans currently don’t need a visa to travel to Canada, but they do have to obtain visas to enter the U.S. American border officials say some Mexican nationals are using Canada’s visa-free rule to fly into the country and then cross illegally into the United States.

The new visa requirement is expected to affect roughly 40 per cent of all Mexican travellers to Canada, a government source told Radio-Canada.

The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper imposed a visa requirement on Mexico in 2009 to stem the flow of asylum claims. The Trudeau government relaxed it in 2016.

WATCH | Canada’s new Mexico visa policies threaten refugees’ rights, advocate says: 

Canada’s new Mexico visa policies threaten refugees’ rights, advocate says

Luisa Ortiz-Garza, an organizer with the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, says Canada is not living up to its obligations as a signatory to multiple refugee conventions by imposing new visa requirements for Mexican nationals. ‘People fleeing persecution and [seeking] asylum should be able to come here and claim that protection,’ says Ortiz-Garza, who lived in in Canada for more than a decade undocumented before getting her permanent residency.

The new rules won’t amount to a complete return to the pre-2016 rules. Mexican nationals with certain types of U.S. visas and those coming to Canada on study or work permits won’t have to obtain Canadian visas.

Mexican nationals who received valid visas under the previous system at any point within the last ten years won’t have to reapply under the new requirements.

The new visas will apply for a ten-year period and will allow a traveller to enter Canada multiple times and stay for up to six months at a time. Customs officers will have discretionary power to limit the duration of the visa or the number of visits, one source said.

U.S. President Joe Biden, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak at the conclusion of the North American Leaders' Summit in Mexico City, Mexico, January 10, 2023.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Joe Biden, Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak at the conclusion of the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City, Mexico, January 10, 2023. López Obrador has threatened not to attend the next summit if he feels Mexico is not being treated fairly. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The government isn’t expected to announce the new visa requirements until Thursday.

But on Wednesday, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador accused Canada of attempting to act unilaterally on immigration measures.

“They are in negotiations to reach an agreement so that we can control migratory flows from Canada,” he said in Spanish during a press conference.

“We have acted generously with them, with the government of Prime Minister Trudeau, but they were already on the verge of applying unilateral measures.”

López Obrador also said he may not attend the next North American Leaders summit — set to take place in Canada — if he feels Canada and the U.S. aren’t treating his country fairly.

“If there’s no respectful treatment, I won’t go,” he said.

A source told Radio-Canada that in an effort to ease tensions with the Mexican government over the visa requirements, Ottawa has agreed to expand the number of sectors in which Mexican nationals can work in Canada. Negotiations are ongoing, the source said.

A close-up photo of François Legault.
Quebec Premier François Legault has been calling on the federal government do more to slow the influx of asylum seekers into his province. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada)

Legault has said asylum seekers are putting heavy pressure on Quebec’s social services and finances.

“Asylum seekers have trouble finding a place to live, which contributes to accentuating the housing crisis,” the premier said in his letter to Trudeau. “Many end up in homeless shelters, which are overflowing.”

He said organizations that help asylum seekers can’t keep up with the demand. Legault said the children of asylum seekers are also straining the resources of schools already facing shortages of teachers and space.

Legault’s letter said asylum seekers who are waiting for work permits receive financial assistance from Quebec. Last October, he said, roughly 43,200 asylum seekers received $33 million in aid from the province.

Quebec Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette welcomed the news but said Ottawa must still do more.

“It’s an important step forward, but it won’t solve everything. The number of asylum seekers accepted by Quebec is far too high and our services are beyond capacity,” she told reporters Thursday in French.

“The federal government must distribute the asylum seekers across Canada. Quebec bears a disproportionate share of the responsibility for receiving them.”

One source told CBC News that domestic issues were the main motivation for the change in policy, but U.S. pressure also played a role. Many migrants were being transported by criminal cartels with the objective of getting them into the U.S., the source said.

A man in a dark suit and red tie answers a question during an interview.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, seen here in an interview with CBC News chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton on Friday, has said the Biden administration has been asking Canada to consider putting back in place the visa requirements for Mexican nationals. (Mathieu Thériault/CBC)

U.S. officials have suggested that people who can’t get into the U.S. lawfully have an incentive to travel to Canada to try entering illegally. Human smuggling networks are cashing in, moving people who are fleeing poverty and violence in Mexico and using Canada as a pitstop on the way to the U.S.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data shows a spike in migrants entering the U.S. from Canada after Trudeau lifted the visa requirement in December 2016. There were 1,169 apprehensions of Mexicans the year before the requirements were lifted; the number nearly doubled to 2,245 in 2018, a year after the requirements were lifted.

Last year, the CBP recorded 4,868 apprehensions. Nearly 2,000 Mexicans have been apprehended at the Canada-U.S. border in the first four months of this fiscal year.

Those numbers are a tiny fraction of the number of apprehensions along the U.S.-Mexico border — nearly 580,000 last year. But the rise in apprehensions at the Canada-U.S. border was enough for U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to raise the issue during his visit to Ottawa last spring.

“We talk about this issue and many issues that impact the migration of people,” Mayorkas said in an interview with CBC News Network’s Rosemary Barton Live at the time.

“I think that’s a decision that the Canadian officials are going to make,” Mayorkas told host Rosemary Barton when asked about the prospect of Ottawa reinstating the visa program.

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