With the new policy of exempting Mexican citizens from visa requirements to come to Canada, the Honourable Tobias C. Enverga Jr., Senator from Ontario, is still concerned about how this will affect the number of refugee claimants from Mexico. In an effort to find out where the Trudeau government plans to get the funding associated with the visa waiver and what effects the policy change might have on the processing times for other immigrants, Senator Enverga asked the following questions during the Senate’s Question Period:
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
Hon. Tobias C. Enverga, Jr.: My question is for the Government Representative in the Senate. We are seeing quite an increase in media reports about illegal border crossings made by refugee claimants crossing our southern land border, at great risk for their own safety.
On December 15, I asked a question about the potential increase in Mexican refugee claimants due to policies in the United States of America and the recent decision to lift visa requirements for Mexican citizens coming to Canada. Since then, with the help of our friends in the media, we have learned that during the first month since the visa requirements were lifted, at least 70 Mexican citizens claimed refugee status. Although a small number in itself, it stands in stark comparison to the previous year’s total number of refugee claimants from Mexico, which was 111.
In addition, the last year that Mexican citizens needed a visa to visit Canada — 2009 — saw a peak of refugee claimants from the country at over 9,500 applicants. Once visa requirements were introduced to Mexicans, the number in 2010 fell to just over 1,300 claimants and it has continued to fall.
How is the Trudeau government planning to deal with the expected asylum seekers from Mexico? More specifically, where will the $433.5 million that this visa waiver is expected to cost over the next 10 years come from?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for his question. There are many elements to the question as he has described it.
First of all, it is the view of the Government of Canada that the imposition of visas on Mexico was not helpful in either a bilateral or economic sense, and certainly nobody in the government would suggest that visa requirements are necessary as a source of income and revenue, so I certainly don’t subscribe to the premise of the question in that regard.
When the Government of Canada initiated the discussions and then reached the agreement with the Government of Mexico with respect to lifting the visa waiver, honourable senators will know that there was a kickback mechanism in the event that the numbers of applications made in Canada for asylum were to repeat and trigger higher. This is a situation that is evolving and is being monitored. Certainly, at this stage, it is premature to contemplate a return of a visa waiver in a relationship that’s working very well for Canada.
Senator Enverga: How can Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada ensure that other immigrants and their processing times will not be affected by this policy change?
Senator Harder: I want to reaffirm to senators that the voting table for the department has a number of line votes for various activities of the department and that the processing of refugee and asylum claims by the Immigration and Refugee Board are separate from the processing of immigration applications from would-be Canadians and that the department is in that regard meeting its targets, I am told, of processing times. I will certainly be happy to look further into the current situation, but I do not believe that the numbers that we are speaking of have any material effect.