Nearly $500 million allocated to address backlog of mainly Mexican asylum seekers

An estimate by the Parliamentary Budget Officer states that the Liberals will spend $455 million processing the claims.

Nearly $500 million allocated to address backlog of mainly Mexican asylum seekers
The Canadian Press / Spencer Colby
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The backlog of mainly Mexican nationals claiming asylum in Canada over the last five years will cost Canada almost a half-billion dollars to clear, a report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) has found.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller admitted that the price tag is one that Canada “arguably shouldn’t have had to assume in the first place.”

The PBO analyzed the cost of processing asylum claims from individuals who entered Canada using a digital document known as an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) instead of a traditional visa.

“The application for eTA requires a $7 fee and is completed online, with most applications being approved within minutes,” the report states.

An estimate by the PBO states that the Liberals will spend $455 million processing the claims. "The average cost is $16,500, but it ranged between $9,055 and $40,814," Global News reports.

“A great number of those costs are associated with Mexico [asylum claims],” said Miller.

Asylum claims from Mexico hit a record high last year, but over 60 percent were either denied or withdrawn.

“What we found with the Mexican claimants, we found a big chunk were not entitled to it, and that is a charge on the system that arguably we shouldn’t have had to assume in the first place,” said Miller at a news conference in Montreal.

“The re-imposition of the visa was a good thing to do,” he said.

The PBO analysis covered data up to the beginning of this year. During the first two months, Mexican nationals were still permitted to enter Canada with an eTA.

“Asylum claimants who arrive in Canada with an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) are the fastest growing group when compared to claimants with other types of authorizations to enter Canada (such as visas)," the PBO report says.

“Given that asylum claimants whose country of alleged prosecution is Mexico are the largest portion of recent asylum claims, this could significantly impact future processing times, as well as the backlog, and therefore affect the per-claimant cost.”

In 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau removed the visa requirement for Mexican nationals entering Canada.

In an interview with Global News last month, Chris Alexander, the former immigration minister under Stephen Harper, stated that this was a mistake.

“The professional advice in the department was against it. The criteria we had set as a country for lifting visa requirements were against it,” he said.

The PBO said it has reviewed the eTA stream, which accounts for 17 percent of asylum claims.

Overall, the number of claims has increased since 2016 to reach a record 144,860 from last year.

“I’m massively concerned about this,” immigration and refugee lawyer Robert Israel Blanshay said.

"There might be an expedited processing stream available. I believe the Immigration and Refugee Board is exploring options for that," he added.

The Liberals have allocated nearly $750 million to provinces and municipalities since 2017 to try to alleviate asylum-related housing strains.

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