The European Commission presented a report this week that criticized Canada's lack of transparency and the delays it has caused in the negotiations over removing visa requirements for the eight most recent EU members.
Canada and the European Union had a reciprocal visa-free status for visitors until 2004, when Hungary, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Poland joined the EU. Presently, citizens of these countries, along with those from Romania and Bulgaria (which became EU member states in 2007) require temporary resident visas to visit Canada. As a condition of their entry into the EU, these eight countries dropped their own visa requirements for Canadians and are now irked that Canada has not responded in turn.
Canada remains concerned about a possible influx of illegal workers or refugee claimants, should the visa requirements be dropped. Having previously removed visa requirements for the Czech Republic and Hungary, they were reinstated in 1997 and 2001 respectively, when Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) was inundated with refugee claims from these countries. When asked about the European Commission's recent report, a spokesman for CIC stated that the government is now "committed to achieving concrete progress toward the shared goals of visa-free travel of all EU citizens to Canada."
This summer, Canada made the process more transparent by outlining nine criteria that will have to be met before the affected countries are exempted from visa requirements. Canada will consider each country's recent history in terms of visa refusal rate, immigration violation rates, and number of refugee claims. The countries will need to share information with Canada and must demonstrate that their passport systems are up to international standards. Citizenship and Immigration Canada representatives will be making technical visits to the affected countries in November and February to explain the nine criteria to government representatives.
During the Canada-EU summit in June, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that the eight affected countries are headed in the right direction and that visa requirements could be lifted for one or two member states by the end of this year. The European Commission wants to see further tangible progress towards reciprocity in the first half of 2008.