New numbers released by the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board show a continuing surge in Mexican asylum seekers coming to Canada. According to a report from the National Post, this March realized the highest number of Mexican refugee claims in 2017: 110, up from 85 in February, and 71 in January, for a total of 266 so far. That's already surpassed 2016's 241 claims.
The surge in Mexican refugees is attributed to the Liberal government lifting a requirement that Mexicans obtain a visa before traveling to Canada -- a requirement introduced by the previous Conservative government to combat rising asylum claims in 2009. However, the move also strained relations between Mexico and Canada, relations that both countries need to repair as they embark on a program of bilateral negotiations in regards to President Donald Trump's promises to renegotiate NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which governs trade between the three nations.
The Liberals promised to negate the visa requirement, easing the way for a united front on NAFTA from Canada and Mexico. As The Globe and Mail reports, according to an insider, both nations expect America to try and divide them when negotiating.
"We think there are going to be things that they will come to us and get them straightened out and then the Americans can say to the Mexicans, 'We have this negotiated with the Canadians, are you okay with this? There are things that can only be solved by bilateral negotiations."And in spite of the efforts for friendlier terms, the Canadian government has warned Mexico that if there are too many refugee claims, the visa requirement could be reinstated. That said, it is believed that the current number of claims is well below Canada's threshold for concern: in 2008, before the visa requirement was put in place, over 9,000 asylum claims were made.
The cost to Canada of lifting the visa requirement has been estimated at about $262 million CDN (a little under $200 million USD) after increased tourism is factored in.
Canada has also detained more Mexicans illegally crossing the border in 2017 already than in all of 2016 -- 444 as of March 9 -- an increase also attributed to the lifting of the visa requirement.
"We anticipated there would be, if not an immediate spike, a surge, and it seems that is what's happening," said foreign affairs critic Peter Kent.
As U.S. crackdowns on immigration continue, many Mexicans looking north have shifted their focus from America to Canada; Immigration and Refugee Minister Ahmed Hussen said that his department would continue to monitor the situation, and spokesperson Camielle Edwards added in a statement that it was too soon to speculate on the ultimate impact of lifting the visa requirement.
"As with all visa lifts that Canada undertakes, we continually and carefully monitor migration trends to ensure the integrity of Canada's immigration system. The visa lift for Mexico has only been in place since December, 2016. It would be premature to speculate on future policy at this point."Meanwhile, between American crackdowns, the breakdown of Mexican-American relations, and the lifting of the visa requirement, Canada has seen an unexpected boon. According to Forbes, Mexican tourism to Canada has dramatically increased, to the tune of an 82 percent boost as of last December when the visa requirement was first lifted. Since then, Mexican tourism to Canada has increased by 16 percent overall, still a surprising gain during the winter months; Mexican tourism to America, meanwhile, has dropped by 9 percent.
That's more significant than many believe; Mexico is actually America's second-largest inbound tourism market, second, of course, to Canada. And with many Canadians also concerned about visiting the United States after the November election, experts predict a major slump in American tourism dollars: research firm Tourism Economics predicts a $1.6 billion loss from Mexican tourism alone by 2018, and that was predicated on a 7 percent drop.
Overall, U.S. travel experts are worried about the long-term economic effect of the White House's nationalist message and strained relations with other countries, while other first-world nations such as Canada expect to see an increase both in tourism dollars and asylum seekers.
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