Time to drop the Mexican visa requirement

by Francisco Suárez Dávila

June 1, 2016

Some people are still fighting old wars. Canada introduced visa requirements for Mexicans because it was thought that Canada’s very open system had admitted refugees that were ‘phoney’. At the peak in 2008, Canada received 9,500 refugee claims from Mexican citizens; 11 per cent of those refugee claimants were accepted.

Since then, the regulations and procedures have been tightened. Decisions were made in three months, not three years. Regardless of the current legal debate, Mexico was one of the few countries Canada cited as a “designated country of origin”, recognizing us as a democracy with basically no discrimination by race, gender, religion or politics.

Mexico has a reasonable passport system, with recent technological improvements. Our border management has always been extremely tight with regards to non-European or non-North American countries, in order to limit migration and illegal activities.

Canadian migration authorities were, I think, overly alarmed by a famous case of a Romanian human trafficking ring with links to both the United States and Mexico. One Canadian immigration minister once expressed concern to me about Somali migrants. I told him Somalis do not carry Mexican passports, and that in the last five years, only 500 Somalis have come to Mexico — while several times as many live in the United States and Canada.

We do have a porous border with Central America, with 100,000 crossings per year, but that is a problem more for ourselves and for the United States than for Canada. Violence, drugs and organized crime are serious issues for Mexico, of course, but they are highly localized in the southwest Pacific zone, at Tamaulipas and near the border crossings. The danger of Mexican organized crime and drug trafficking in Canada would not be any greater than the danger posed by existing criminal networks. We are cushioned by the ‘elephant’ in between, plus several hours of flight distance.

Mexicans do not require visas to enter Europe and we eliminated visas for tourists from Peru, Colombia and Chile — countries which pose potential drug trafficking risks. With security cases handled in cooperation between security authorities, tourism between those countries has increased sevenfold.

In politics, timing is of the essence. It stands to reason that visa requirements should be eliminated by the time President Enrique Peña Nieto and his entourage arrive in Canada for the upcoming summit in late June, perhaps in an initially restricted form to prior holders of American or Canadian visas. This group, as visa-free nationals, could then enter Canada’s Electronic Travel Authorization System, which would later be made available to all Mexicans.

It would be unpalatable to Mexican public opinion if fifty visa-free countries enter the ETA System while Mexico, Canada’s third trading partner, does not. We have to be in the first group. As a matter of practical definition, elimination of visa requirements means, in practice, convergence and participation in the ETA System.

Canada needs to be praised for its humanitarian acceptance of 25,000 Syrian refugees — but again, it’s difficult to see how they pose less of a risk than a few hundred Mexican asylum seekers, even “phoney” ones.

Safeguards can be devised. ETA approval for a solicitant is said to take two weeks to process. Canadian preclearance — with Canadian migration officials in Mexican airports and much-needed improvements to security information cooperation — could do the job. Penalties could be imposed on fraudulent Mexican travel or legal offices. Better information could be made available to the public.

Solve the visa problem and the rewards could be huge. The number of Mexican tourists (known to be big spenders) could rise to 500,000 and beyond. Mexican students at all levels could attend Canada’s top education institutions. Cross-border investment could increase, along the lines of Grupo Bimbo’s $1.8 billion purchase of Canada Bread.

Removing this time-consuming, pervasive visa irritant could allow our governments to focus on a broader and deeper agenda: energy, infrastructure environment, value chains, technology and political challenges. More than ever, a stronger North America needs closer Canada-Mexico relations.

Image: Steve Marcus/Reuters

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