Canada's decision to lift the visa requirement for Mexican travellers is expected to cost about $262 million over the next decade, in part to deal with a potential surge in asylum seekers, according to an internal government analysis.
A regulatory impact analysis statement, just published on a Canadian government website, pegs the overall cost of the policy change that kicks in today at $433.5 million over 10 years due to extra enforcement resources and added costs associated with a potential spike in refugee claims.
The analysis predicts those costs will be partially offset by an estimated $171.6 million in economic benefits through increased tourism from Mexico and a boost in trade and investment opportunities.
"The federal government will need to make significant investments in immigration and border control processes to support a sustainable visa lift," the report reads. "Federal and provincial/territorial governments will need to manage potential increases in asylum claimants from Mexico who may seek to exploit their new visa-free status in an attempt to migrate to Canada permanently."
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While the majority of costs for dropping the visa requirement, and replacing it with an electronic travel authorization, will be borne by the federal government, provincial and territorial governments will also be impacted by increased asylum claims, the report says.
Screening, processing costs
Some of the anticipated costs listed include:
- Receiving and processing asylum claims.
- Front-end security screening.
- Processing of claims at ports of entry.
- Investigations, hearings, detentions, litigation and removals of failed asylum claimants.
The report also projects transition costs for issuing operational bulletins and implementing systems changes.
Potential benefits are also analyzed in the document, which says the visa exemption will "improve Canada's overall competitiveness as a tourism destination, as well as encourage continued growth of air travel between the two countries."
"For Canada, the result will be an increase in the number of business and leisure travellers, including those visiting friends and family amongst the Mexican diaspora in Canada, which numbers approximately 317,000, according to 2011 census figures."
The report cites Statistics Canada data for the first seven months of 2016 that showed a 17 per cent increase in travel from Mexico to Canada. It also noted that this September, Aeromexico announced that as a direct result of the Dec. 1 visa lift, the airline would increase flights to Canada by 47 per cent, which could translate into a potential additional 9,900 passengers per week from Mexico to several major Canadian cities.
"However, it is clear that the quantifiable costs of implementing this visa lift exceed the anticipated quantifiable benefits," the report concludes.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the promise to lift the visa requirement during the 2015 election campaign, and formally announced the new policy during a two-day state visit by President Enrique Pena Nieto in June. The two leaders also announced plans to lift Mexico's ban on Canadian beef imports.
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The visa was brought in by the previous Conservative government in 2009.
The impact statement acknowledges that was due to a "substantial increase" in refugee claims from Mexican citizens between 2005 and 2008, the majority of whom "were found to be not in need of protection." The report also notes the visa requirement has been a "significant bilateral irritant."
Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the new analysis showing a net cost to Canada proves the policy was a "political promise that was ill thought out and ill planned." She expects the projected cost could climb much higher if there is a big jump in asylum claims.
"Because they didn't do that formal review, there's really no metrics to determine what the added costs are actually going to be," she said. "There are a lot of followup questions that I will certainly be asking in the coming days."
Rempel said Canadians are generally very supportive of immigration, but they want assurance of integrity in the system.
Last month, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum said the visa could be "reimposed" if the number of asylum claims spikes as a result of the policy change, but did not specify what number of claims would trigger a reversal.
"Canada retains its sovereignty on this issue. There comes a point where it would become unsustainable, but we are hoping that point will not arrive," he said.
Ensuring successful visa lift
CBC News has learned officials at IRCC and other departments have held high-level meetings to discuss a potential flood of Mexican asylum seekers due to both the visa lift and the result of the U.S. election last month. President-elect Donald Trump promised during his campaign to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and to remove anyone illegally living and working in the country.
A senior official in McCallum's office said IRCC officials are working with Mexican counterparts to ensure a successful visa lift.
"This includes measures to identify and deter irregular migration. As with all visa lifts that Canada undertakes, IRCC will carefully monitor migration trends, including asylum claim rates, coming out of Mexico once the visa is lifted," the official said.