Update June 28, 2016: Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has announced visa restrictions for Mexican citizens will be lifted beginning Dec. 1.
Mexicans will soon be able to travel to Canada without a visa. And they might actually want to, as newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes strides to improve strained relations between the two countries.
“Justin Trudeau confirmed he has given his cabinet instructions to in the future remove the requisite of Canadian visas for Mexicans,” an upbeat President Enrique Peña Nieto tweeted this week. The symbolic measure promises to hit the restart button on strained Mexico-Canada diplomacy.
Despite being NAFTA trade partners, Canada and Mexico have not always played nicely as both countries compete for Uncle Sam’s attention and resources. Last year, Mexico was put on the defensive as Canada increased its supplies of oil to U.S. refineries.
But the gloves really came off in 2009, when then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a conservative, imposed a new visa system on Mexicans to crack down on asylum requests. The move was allegedly to counter the growing number of requests by Mexican citizens who were trying to game the country’s refugee system. Harper’s measure soured relations and sparked commercial tensions. Mexican tourism to Canada fell by 40% as a consequence.
Trudeau, however, has brought a breath of fresh air to the stale relations. During his campaign he said Canada should find other ways to deal with asylum applications rather than “slapping a Mexican visa that is hurting tourism and relations with our continental partner and quite frankly has hurt our growth within NAFTA.”
Some think Trudeau might be moving too fast.
“Trudeau made a bunch of promises without fully understanding the consequences or why prior policies existed in the first place,” security and immigration expert Athanasios Hristoulas told Fusion.
According to Hristoulas, Trudeau is failing to fully grasp the reasons why Harper imposed the Mexican visa in the first place.
He says many Mexicans were abusing Canada’s refugee system, which wasn’t doing a good job in weeding out fraudsters. Applicants for refugee status were able to remain in Canada for one to two years waiting for an immigration hearing; during that time they had access to the national healthcare system and other benefits.
Hristoulas says Canadian and Mexican authorities were already working to resolve those issues when Trudeau got elected — just in time to take the credit for the policy change.
But some are still happy to applaud Trudeau’s “sunny ways” after the days of Harper.
The Wilson Center’s Andrew Selee says the way the Harper administration went about its business gave many Mexicans “the impression Canada was turning its back on Mexico.”
He says it “became a hugely emotional issue over the past few years and soured relationships between Mexico and Canada.”
Trudeau’s arrival is a golden opportunity to turn the page and reunite the three amigos.
“This decision will help create space not only for Canada and Mexico to talk bilaterally about other issues of collaboration, but also for the three governments of North America to think creatively about the region,” Selee says.
There’s still no date for when the visa restriction will be lifted, but Trudeau is fast becoming a popular man in Mexico.