Officials in Canada are readying for a potential surge in Mexican migrants, as a promise to scrap a visa requirement comes into effect amid uncertainty over Donald Trump’s promises to crack down on undocumented immigrants.
From Thursday, Mexican visitors to Canada will no longer need visas.
The move has left the government anticipating an increase in Mexican tourists and business travellers, a spokesperson for Canada’s immigration ministry said.
The visa was put in place in 2009 by the previous Conservative government to address an increase in what it described as bogus refugee claims.
But the timing of the visa lift – following on the heels of Trump’s vows to expel millions of illegal immigrants – has sparked concerns among officials that Canada could again see a substantial increase in Mexican asylum seekers, government sources told the Guardian.
Between 2005 and 2008, Canadian officials said refugee claims from Mexico nearly tripled,making Mexico the number one source country for claims. Of the more than 9,400 claims filed by Mexicans in 2008, just 11% were accepted.
The visa was embraced as a means of border control by the Conservative government. “The visa requirement I am announcing will give us a greater ability to manage the flow of people into Canada,” the then immigration minister Jason Kenney said in a statement. “In addition to creating significant delays and spiralling new costs in our refugee program, the sheer volume of these claims is undermining our ability to help people fleeing real persecution.”
After the visa was introduced, the number of Mexican asylum seekers plunged – dropping to 120 in 2015 – but the Canadian government came under tremendous political pressure from Mexico to end the policy.
In June, the government agreed to do so, in exchange for Mexico expanding its imports of Canadian beef. “This move will make it easier for our Mexican friends to visit Canada, while growing our local economies and strengthening our communities,” Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, said at the time.
At the time, few had considered the possibility that Trump – who had vowed to build a wall along the shared border between the US and Mexico and deport millions of undocumented workers and illegal residents – would win the US election.
If Trump carries through on those pledges, it could result in a substantial impact on Canada, said Toronto immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman. “It’s the lifting of the visa and the fact that Trump is going to take over, those two factors together are seen as a major pull factor attracting people to come to Canada.”
He drew parallels with another wave of migrants that headed north in recent years. “After 9/11, when there was a significant crackdown in the United States on Muslims, there was a significant number of people who came across the border from the United States into Canada at that time.”
Others disputed whether the visa lift and Trump presidency would result in a substantial increase in Mexican migrants to Canada. “I imagine there will be some increase, perhaps to numbers similar to before the Great Recession hit,” said César Cuauhtémoc of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. “The reality, however, is that many Mexicans have strong reasons – family ties and longstanding economic relationships are two of the most prominent – to set their sights on the United States despite the difficult path to lawful migration.”
Net migration from Mexico to the US has dropped over recent years, thanks to tougher enforcement on the border and a relatively stable jobs market.
But Trump’s election victory – and his promises to tear up existing trade agreements and impose stiff import duties – have caused the peso to plunge and sparked fears of an economic crisis in Mexico.
Canada’s minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship has downplayed any concerns, arguing that the visa lift will yield deeper ties between Canada and Mexico and boost tourism. “We are very happy to welcome more Mexican tourists to this country and to accept the jobs that go along with that,” John McCallum recently told the House of Commons. “Of course we knew there were risks. There are risks when you do anything.”
The government will continue to closely monitor migration from Mexico, he said, and could move to reinstate the visa if it sees a spike in the number of Mexican asylum seekers. “There would come a point where a visa could be reimposed,” he said. “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.”