October 17, 2013 7:40 pm

Canada to lift visa requirements for Czechs

A fisherman waits for a catch underneath the medieval Charles Bridge as the sun rises in Prague, Czech Republic, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013. AP Photo/Petr David Josek

AP Photo/Petr David Josek

CALGARY – A move to lift visa requirements for Czech nationals is on the horizon, says the federal minister who oversaw the move in 2009.

Canada abolished visas for Czech citizens in 2007 but re-imposed them two years later due to concerns over an excessive number of asylum-seekers, most of them from the country’s Roma claiming discrimination at home.

Jason Kenney, now minister of Social Development, Employment and Multiculturalism, was the minister of Citizenship and Immigration when the government made the move.

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“We had a huge wave of unfounded refugee claims from the Czech Republic between 2007 and 2009. The good news is that our reformed refugee system has radically reduced the number of fake claims coming to Canada, for example, from the European Union,” Kenney said at a Calgary event on Thursday.

“We’ve always said we wanted in principle to have full visa-free travel for citizens of European Union member states at some point in the future but we also have a responsibility to protect the integrity of our immigration system,” he said.

“We’ve said to the Czechs that eventually we’ll get back to an exemption but we first need to fix our system and the results are positive so far. The truth is the announcement is not yet done.”

Kenney’s comments come on the heels of remarks by Canada’s ambassador to Prague.

Otto Jelinek says his government wants to re-establish visa-free status “in the earliest possible term.”

His comment came as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was expected in Brussels to conclude a trade deal with EU that the Czechs had threatened to block.

Kenney said no date has been set for lifting the restrictions.

“Look, no decision has been made and you’ll have to wait. When there’s an announcement, there will be an announcement on any changes,” Kenney said.

“My bigger problem as minister of Immigration was a wave of fake asylum claims coming from Hungary. I’m pleased to say since we brought in our new, faster immigration system last year, the number of Hungarian asylum claims is down by 98 per cent,” he added.

“That’s a pretty good signal we would not see a re-emergence of the problem from the Czech Republic.”

© The Canadian Press, 2013

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