Ottawa approves $12M extra funding due to ‘pressures’ of Mexican visa lift

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto walk down the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill last June.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto walk down the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill last June. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The lifting of a visa requirement for visitors from Mexico last winter has already led the federal government to dedicate nearly $12 million in additional funds “to address irregular migration pressures.”

The money was listed in Supplementary Estimates for fiscal year 2016-17, approved by Parliament on March 21.

Supplementary estimates are tabled in Parliament up to three times per year, providing MPs and the public with information about extra funding departments may be looking for in order to fulfil their mandates.

READ MORE: Overwhelming majority of Canadians say refugee rules must change

In total, the following was approved to “address irregular migration pressures as a result of the lifting of the visa requirement for citizens of Mexico”:

  • $6.15 million for the Canada Border Services Agency
  • $4.57 million for the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB)
  • $1.18 million for the Department of Citizenship and Immigration

A spokesperson for the IRB said the money in that department was mainly needed for salaries. The IRB needed extra staff (26.4 full-time equivalencies) as a result of the policy change, including refugee protection decision-makers and support staff.

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There were also “operating costs of $0.8 million for one-time set-up costs and case-handling costs such as translations, transcriptions and interpreters,” the IRB said.

Over at the immigration department, a spokesperson said, “Resources were required to support a number of activities related to the anticipated increase in travellers, such as traveller screening, along with the potential increase in asylum claims.”

The CBSA did not respond to a request for comment, or provide details, on the $6.15 million in funding it received.

The decision to lift the visa requirement, announced by the Liberal government last year, came into effect on Dec. 1, 2016. The Liberals acknowledged that there was some risk associated with the move, but said the benefits of increased tourism and more workers from Mexico contributing to the Canadian economy was worth it.

The money will need to keep flowing in the coming years, by the government’s own admission.

A regulatory impact analysis statement, published last December, estimated the visa lift would cost taxpayers $433.5 million over the next decade.  Those costs are expected to be partially offset by an estimated $171.6 million in economic benefits.

“We have mechanisms in place, and we’re working very closely with Mexican officials to address any risks related to the visa lift,” said Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen in the House of Commons recently.

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“We’ve already witnessed lasting economic benefits from the visa lift.”

The Conservatives, however, have expressed concern that there will be a sustained spike in false asylum claims and detentions, something that has partly been borne out over the last three months.

WATCH: Immigration minister addresses concerns over Mexico visa requirement

Click to play video: 'Michelle Rempel asks Liberals to reinstate Mexico visa requirement'
Michelle Rempel asks Liberals to reinstate Mexico visa requirement

According to numbers released recently by the Immigration and Refugee Board, there were 85 asylum claims made by Mexican nationals in February, compared to just four in the same month a year before.

In mid-March, Reuters also reported that the number of Mexicans being detained by the CBSA has increased dramatically. As of March 9, 444 Mexicans had been detained in Canada, compared to 410 in all of 2016.

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