Mexican Business Visa Program

Evelyn Ackah for The Lawyers Weekly

May 21, 2010

The Canadian government imposed a new visa requirement last year on all Mexican citizens travelling to Canada, aimed at reducing the growing number of refugee claimants originating from Mexico. As a result, all Mexicans who travel to Canada now have to apply for a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) and satisfy a visa officer at the Canadian Embassy that they have a temporary intention, will not overstay their approved time in Canada and that they can afford to pay for their visit. In addition, they must be healthy, have no criminal record and not be considered a security risk to Canadians.

Following this decision by the Canadian government, there was a significant outcry by the Mexican government, which led to increased diplomatic tension between these two NAFTA partners. Mexico retaliated by imposing visa requirements on all Canadian diplomats in the country, and had even threatened at one point to impose visa requirements on all 1.3 million Canadian tourists entering Mexico.

As a direct result of lobbying and diplomatic pressure by the Mexican government over the past year, Canada announced on April 9 a new visa application program for Mexican business travelers, called the Business Express Program (BEP). The BEP was established to provide enhanced services to qualified Mexican businesses and their employees, including priority processing of visa applications, less paperwork and a dedicated service team catering to the needs of the individuals within the program.

Participants in the program will have their visa requests processed within 24 hours. Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, believes that this program will "help Canadian and Mexican companies do business together and continue to fuel our economic recovery."

The BEP is very exclusive, and participation is by invitation only. Businesses will be selected by the Embassy of Canada in Mexico who have a proven need for frequent travel to Canada. These select businesses must have established good immigration track records over the years, and must be able to show that their employees are admissible to Canada and have adhered to Canada's immigration laws. Applications can be submitted in Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara.

The BEP is intended to relieve some of the long delays experienced by Mexican travelers as a result of the new Canadian visa requirements. Approximately 113 companies have been invited to the program and currently, only 12 have registered to participate.

Since the announcement of the BEP, very little information about the specific details, processes, participating companies and policies has been released. Nothing can be found on the Canadian Embassy website in Mexico or by making contact with the various Canadian consular offices in Mexico.

At the time of publication, I was unable to locate any guidelines or protocols regarding the program or details regarding the administrative process for obtaining a business visa for those eligible to apply.

The BEP raises several issues of concern:

  • The program only applies to business travelers and therefore, presumably, does not provide for those who want to travel to Canada with their family members while on business. Since there is no publicly available information about this fast-track visa process, we do not know whether dependent family members are included in the program;
  • The program excludes Mexican citizens who work for smaller companies that require business visas for their employees. All Mexican companies should be permitted to apply for inclusion in the BEP. The program should not be limited to those deemed worthy of invitations as determined by the visa or trade sections of the Embassy of Canada in Mexico City or Export Development Canada;
  • The Canadian government has not considered the major economic impact of limiting this program to business travelers. Since imposing the TRV requirement on Mexican citizens in 2009, the number of Mexican travelers to Canada each month has decreased by more than 50 per cent, from 22,396 in January 2009 to 9,407 in February of 2010. Undoubtedly, this will have a significant financial impact on the Canadian economy by reducing tourism from Mexico;
  • Canada and Mexico are among each other's largest trading partners, and?this new program does not go far enough in smoothing the diplomatic relations and returning to a focus on economic integration between the two countries.

It remains to be seen whether the BEP will have the desired impact. The focus of the Canadian government on immigration over the past five years has been to stem a perceived tide of refugees into Canada. The real focus should be on reducing barriers to international business, tourism and trade, and taking a long-term systematic approach to immigration matters - not a knee-jerk reactionary approach.

Evelyn Ackah is a founding partner of Spectrum HR law LLP, based in the Calgary office. She practises exclusively Canadian and U.S. business immigration law and is certified as a specialist in citizenship and immigration law (immigration) by the Law Society of Upper Canada.
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