St. Vincent & the Grenadines and St. Lucian citizens now require visitor visas to enter Canada.
Citizenship, Immigration & Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney said an unacceptably high number of claims from the two Eastern Caribbean islands, with about one and a half per cent and three per cent of the islands’ populations making asylum claims in Canada in the last five years, influenced the decision to impose visa requirements.
“We continue to welcome genuine visitors to Canada,” he said. “These changes are necessary to protect the integrity of Canada’s fair and generous immigration system by helping us to reduce an unacceptably high number of immigration violations.”
The St. Lucian government expressed disappointment at Canada’s decision to impose visa requirements on its nationals, adding it deeply regrets that the Canadian government did not give it an opportunity to address the concerns regarding the claims of ‘unreliable travel documents’ allegedly held by some St. Lucians.
Shortly after assuming his new role as St. Lucia’s consul general in Toronto last June, Michael Willius said the large number of St. Lucians claiming refugee status in Canada was an issue of serious concern for both the Canadian and St. Lucian governments and he warned that citizens may need a visa to travel to Canada if they continue to make false claims to stay in this country.
When contacted earlier this week, Willius said his government has advised him not to respond to media inquiries until they receive an official letter from the Canadian government conveying its decision.
“All I could say for now is that it’s an unfortunate situation,” he added.
St. Vincent & the Grenadines consul general, Steve Phillips, said he’s in a similar position as his St. Lucian counterpart.
“I am waiting for some direction from my government before I could go ahead and say something,” said Phillips. “In the meantime, my office has been inundated with phone calls from our nationals trying to get information.”
Frances Del Sol, the president of the Council of Caribbean Associations Canada (CCAC), said the ruling caught her organization by surprise.
“Based on our recent meeting with Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs) Diane Ablonczy, we were under the impression that the government was going to realign the refugee status application process so as to deter persons from the Caribbean from using the process,” she said. “As an organization, we would have liked to see more dialogue on the issue with the Caribbean countries impacted prior to implementation. This decision sends a very clear message to persons of Caribbean descent, especially those from OECS countries that we need to get significantly more involved in the political process if we are to impact change that affects us.”
The visa policy change means that nationals from St. Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines who want to travel to Canada will have to apply for a visitor visa and meet the requirements to receive the mandatory travel document. They are required to submit their applications by mail or in person to the Canadian visa office in Trinidad & Tobago.
It’s up to the applicants to satisfy visa officers that their visit to Canada is temporary, they will not overstay their authorized stay, they have enough money to cover their visit, they are in good health, they do not have a criminal record and they are not a security risk to Canadians.
The cost of a non-refundable individual single entry visitor visa is Can$75.
In December 2001, Canada imposed similar visitor visa requirements on citizens of Dominica and Grenada.
That decision was influenced by the two governments’ practice of selling citizenship and pressure from the United States government to tighten the borders with Canada in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. In October 2011, Grenada suspended its Economic Citizenship Program (ECP) that allowed foreigners to purchase passports. The program was criticized even before September 11, with American officials claiming it allowed criminals to adopt legal identities for a price. Introduced in 1998, a passport could be obtained for nearly US$39,000 under the program.
The Dominica ECP program was suspended in 2000 after the late Rosie Douglas became Prime Minister. A few months prior to the suspension, 11 Chinese travellers were refused entry into Canada after they presented Dominican passports at Lester B. Pearson International Airport. Suspicious they were not genuine visitors, Canada Border Services Agency officers detained them and the matter went before an immigration adjudicator. The group, however, chose to leave Canada voluntarily before a hearing was held.
Other CARICOM countries whose citizens require visitor visas to enter Canada include Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Belize and Suriname.
Citizens of Namibia, Botswana and Swaziland are also impacted by Canada’s new visa requirements. Their applications will be processed in Pretoria, South Africa.
Of all African countries, Namibia has the highest immigration violation with 81 per cent last year. Almost 71 per cent of travellers from Namibia made asylum claims in 2011.
“These changes are necessary because all the countries concerned have an immigration violation rate of over 30 per cent, well above the level we deem acceptable for counties benefitting from a visa exemption,” said Kenney.