John McCallum says Mexican visa could be ‘reimposed’ if refugee claims spike

Canada's Immigration Minister John McCallum speaks in the House of Commons in Ottawa
Canada’s Immigration Minister John McCallum speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Canada is prepared to reinstate a visa requirement for Mexican travellers if the number of refugee claims jumps too high, says Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum.

The visa lift is set to kick in Dec. 1. McCallum said the federal government was aware of a possible spike in asylum-seekers long before Donald Trump was elected president in the U.S.

“There would come a point where a visa could be reimposed,” he said but would not specify what number of claims might trigger that. “Canada retains its sovereignty on this issue. There comes a point where it would become unsustainable, but we are hoping that point will not arrive.”

CBC News has learned officials at IRCC and other departments have held high-level meetings to discuss a potential flood of Mexican asylum-seekers due to both the visa lift and the result of the U.S. election.

Benefit ‘outweighed’ risk

Trump campaigned on promises to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and to swiftly deport undocumented workers and illegal residents.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the plan to lift the visa requirement during a visit by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on June 28. During that meeting, Mexico announced it would fully reopen its market to Canadian beef in October.

A senior immigration official said Tuesday that a review was carried out in the run-up to that announcement and a number of risks were identified. But he declined to provide details or recommendations because it was “advice to the minister.”

Testifying to the immigration and citizenship committee by video from Mexico City, Olivier Jacques, IRCC’s area director for Latin America, acknowledged that more Mexicans could arrive from the U.S., and others directly from Mexico, due to changes.

Jacques said various criteria are reviewed to assess a country’s “readiness” for a visa lift. In Mexico’s case, those risks were measured against Canada’s “unique relationship” with the country, including geographic proximity and the close trade relationship within NAFTA.

“At this point, the assessment of the government is that the benefit related to a visa lift outweighed any identified risk we have with these migrants,” he said.

Trade, tourism boost

During the daily question period Tuesday, Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel pointed to that testimony and asked why the Liberals “blatantly” ignored the red flags in a rush to lift the visa requirement.

But McCallum said there are benefits associated with the visa lift, including increased trade and tourism.

“We are very happy to welcome more Mexican tourists to this country and to accept the jobs that go along with that.”

McCallum reiterated that Canada made the agreement with Mexico in June, before Trump’s presidential win.

“We went into partnership with the Mexican government to minimize those risks, so obviously we were aware of them from the beginning,” he said.

Under the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper, Canada imposed the visa requirement due to a huge rise in refugee claims that were subsequently rejected for being invalid.

The number of Mexican claims referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board was climbing dramatically until it peaked at 9,511 in 2009. After the visa requirement was imposed, it dropped to 1,349, then continued to shrink to just 120 in 2015. Between January and June this year, there were only 60 cases, according to the most recent figures available.

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