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Visa-exempt status for Taiwan is smart and overdue

How does our immigration department decide which countries will be exempted from our visa requirements and which won’t?

Last week, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced that travellers from Taiwan will no longer need visitor’s visas to travel to Canada.


How does our immigration department decide which countries will be exempted from our visa requirements and which won’t?


First, there are the objective immigration criteria.


In the case of Taiwan, Citizenship and Immigration Canada reports that, in 2009, the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei approved 99 per cent of the more than 25,500 visitor visa applications it received. In the same year, 51,000 travellers from Taiwan came to Canada on some form of temporary status. Canada’s periodic review of its visa requirements found that there were low numbers of immigration violations by Taiwanese nationals and few removals from Canada to Taiwan. In fact, between 2007 and 2009, only 23 Taiwanese nationals sought asylum here.


The lifting of the visa requirement does not guarantee Taiwanese nationals entry to Canada. It simply means that they will be screened here at the port-of-entry rather than at a Canadian visa post abroad. Upon arrival at a Canadian port-of-entry, and like all other travellers to Canada, they will have to persuade the inspecting customs officer that they are coming here for a lawful and temporary purpose and that they are not otherwise inadmissible to enter Canada.


These measures are expected to encourage tourist and business travel between the two countries. As long as these numbers don’t change much we can expect these measures to stay in place indefinitely.


In the event, unlikely I think, that these measure are abused we could see the reversal of this policy. For example in April 1996, Canada lifted the visa requirements on nationals of the Czech Republic. This policy opened the door for 1,500 Czechs to make refugee claims here. So in October 1997, the visa requirement was re-imposed. After the Czech Republic joined the European Union, Canada faced increasing international pressure to lift the visa requirements again. It did so in October, 2007. Once again, the refugee claims started pouring in and, in July, 2009 the requirement was re-imposed and still remains in place.


In general, the richer and more politically stable a country is, the more likely it will be declared visa-exempt. The reason for this is that foreigners who choose to overstay their welcome in Canada often do so because they can enjoy a better standard of living here than they can in their own country and/or because they feel safer here than they do back home. In the case of Taiwan, it is a relatively prosperous country and one that is not facing any immediate threat of civil unrest, so it is a natural candidate for visa-exempt status.


A second major consideration for Canada in reaching such decisions is politics, especially in the case of Taiwan.


One can argue quite fairly that this measure is long overdue and that Taiwan was deserving of this preferred status long ago. However, China considers Taiwan’s territory as its own and doesn’t recognize Taiwan as an independent state. Accordingly, Canada has had a “one-China policy” for many years and still does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state and still does not maintain official government-to-government relations with Taipei (i.e. Canada’s visa post in Taipei is not an embassy but a “trade office”). This policy was reiterated by Canada in a formal Canada-China Joint Statement in Beijing in December 2009.


Canada has, until now, avoided favouring Taiwan and offending the Chinese, who do need a visa to travel to Canada. After all, Canada exported $11.2 billion worth of goods to China in 2009. At the same time it could not continue to ignore the interests of Taiwan, which is also an important and reliable trading partner and to whom it exported more than $1.1 billion of goods in the same year.


Accordingly, effective Nov. 22, individuals holding ordinary Taiwan passports that include a personal identification number are exempted from having to obtain what are officially known as a Temporary Resident Visas, or TRVs.


This decision is sensible, if not overdue, and should lead to an increase in trade, travel, and cultural interaction between two friendly nations.


In other words, this is a good day in Canadian immigration policy-making.


Guidy Mamann, J.D. practices law in Toronto at Mamann, Sandaluk and is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as an immigration specialist. For more information, visit www.migrationlaw.com or email metro@migrationlaw.com

 
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