Canada confirms lifting of visas for Czechs 'imminent'

Photo: archive of Radio Prague

The Canadian Embassy has confirmed media reports that the government in Ottawa is on the verge of lifting visas for Czechs. Visas for Czechs wishing to visit Canada were reintroduced in 2009 following a rise in the number of Roma people seeking asylum. The Czech government had appealed to the European Union to put pressure on Canada to abolish the visa requirement.

Photo: archive of Radio Prague
Canada’s newly-appointed ambassador to Prague Otto Jelinek confirmed to the Czech News Agency on Thursday that the reports in the Canadian media – claiming Ottawa was on the verge of lifting visas for Czechs – were true.

Canada’s Postmedia News site had been reporting that the federal government was expected to abolish travel visas for Czechs within weeks, quoting Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander as saying the government had been working “for some time to get to this place”.

The move, he said, should be seen as a measure of “good faith” and an “important step forward in relations with the Czech Republic.” The reimposition of visas in 2009 had deeply angered the Czechs; the country had appealed to the European Union to put pressure on Canada and had even threatened to refuse to ratify the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a key trade deal between Canada and the world’s largest economy.

The visa issue has for several years been a thorn in the side of Czech-Canadian relations. Canadian citizens enjoy visa-free travel to any country in the Schengen Area, which includes the Czech Republic. Until 2009, the reverse was true as well – any citizen from the Schengen Area, including Czechs, could visit Canada freely and stay there for up to six months.

Illustrative photo: Filip Jandourek
In July 2009, that changed, when Ottawa, alarmed at the number of Roma asylum seekers from the Czech Republic arriving in Canada, suddenly reintroduced visas for Czech citizens. Now, Czechs must apply for a visa at the Canadian Embassy in Prague. The number of Czechs visiting Canada – a country with a large Czech émigré community and lots of people going back and forth – has fallen by one third as a result.

Canada has said in the past it must first be assured the number of asylum seekers would not rise again before agreeing to lift visas. Relations between white Czechs and Romanies have if anything worsened since 2009; regular neo-Nazi marches have targeted Roma communities in recent months. Certainly there’s no guarantee that Czech Roma won’t decide to board a plane and once again seek asylum in Canada – where many of their relatives now live.