Harper Visas

Feb 28, 2014

Few decisions have received as much condemnation as the establishment by the Canadian government of visas for Mexicans. This requirement was initiated n July 2009 by decision of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, from the Conservative Party and in that position since February 2006. In addition, the procedure for obtaining them is absurd, unnecessarily complex, and demeaning.

Formally, this requirement responded to an alleged abuse of Mexicans who embraced Canadian asylum, arguing that they were at risk due to several factors, particularly their sexual preferences. While the number of Mexicans who accepted asylum is not clear, it apparently does not exceed ten thousand. The result was the sudden stop of a continuous flow of Mexican visitors from various conditions to Canada every year: in 2012, 39,700 business visitors; 28,900 for family and friends; 42,200 for leisure; and 36,600 for other reasons.

This is a case that clearly illustrates the distance and misunderstanding between a ruler and his people. Canadians are admirable for many reasons: their openness, their rule of law, the power of its economy (they are a party to the North American Free Trade Agreement), the quality of its education system, its multiculturalism, and, in general, their democratic and political openness.

How then can we understand such a goofy measure as visas to Mexicans? This is an inefficient decision because a relatively small problem was “solved” by turning it into a larger one. Various Canadian figures have repeatedly argued against those visas. A few days before Harper’s visit to the trilateral summit in Mexico, there were various public demonstrations requesting the Prime Minister to remove the visas. His response was either to ignore or reject those demands.

The relationship between Mexico and Canada is important for both countries. Because of NAFTA, Canada is the second larges trading partner to the United States and the third to Mexico. In turn, Mexico is the third trading partner for both the US and Canada. Coincidences in foreign policy positions have been numerous, regarding OAS and Cuba, for example. There is also a wide agreement on many other issues, such as those arising from shared neighborhood with the US. More importantly, there is sympathy between the two countries.

During his visit to Mexico, Prime Minister Harper refused to give a solution to the visa problem. With an uncomfortable attitude, he evaded President Peña Nieto’s attempt and then said that “the imposition of visas is a sovereign decision of Canada, which is not amenable to negotiations with other countries”, adding that “based on national security and illegal migration criteria, it is clear that under the current circumstances, we must have a visa for Mexico.”

He tried to confuse the Mexican public claiming that a Trusted Traveler Program for North America would be adopted. But that does not mean that visas would be eliminated. In addition, lacking solid arguments, when he returned to Canada, he immediately linked the problem with the inability of Mexico to curb illegal migration to Canada (?) and even with problems of organized crime. This shift in his speech was negative and will eventually turn out to be counterproductive.

The author of these visas is Stephen Harper, not Canadians. The prestigious newspaper The Globe and Mail has described him as enigmatic, boring as a door, not charismatic at all and shamelessly opportunistic. This has been reflected in a systematic increase in his rate of disapproval: from 55% in early 2009 to 69% in October 2013.

Mr. Harper is a representative to the province of Alberta, which is characterized by the importance of its oil industry. Thus, there has long been the potential to intensify the relationship between Alberta and Mexico, especially in light of the energy reform. Clearly, visas hinder any effort in that direction. A stronger relationship between Alberta and Mexico will have to wait for Harper visas to be removed.

No wonder that Mexicans of all origins may be increasingly careful when examining any proposal to visit or do business with Canada. Unfortunately, we must anticipate that this fear will intensify while the Harper visas remain. What a pity. 

Experts & Staff