Welcome, everyone, to the Montréal Airport. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us for today’s announcement. I would first like to build on a point that was raised by my two colleagues and that remains essential for Canada, and for all Canadians, which is the key role of our airport. They truly are the pillars of our economy, gateways for travellers, tourists, businesspeople, students, and immigrants, who all depend on the smooth operation of our airports, and we are very proud of their performance and absolutely determined to do everything in our power at the federal level to promote airports and competitive civil aviation, commensurate with Canada's potential in all sectors.
And thank you, again, for coming here today. I am delighted to be here on behalf of the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, and on behalf of the Government of Canada, to highlight faster and more flexible solutions that our government is providing to visitors who want to come to Canada.
People have different reasons for coming to Canada. Some come to do business, some to visit family and friends, or simply to discover the richness of our great country, especially when the weather is nice, as it was this weekend, and still is, and you'll see them behind me, Canadians returning from abroad and foreign visitors coming to discover Canada.
Whatever the reason, we know that more and more visitors are coming to Canada, and I am proud to announce today a new visa program that will streamline the process for Mexicans, our partners in NAFTA, who want to visit our country. As you know, in 2014 we are celebrating a number of important anniversaries in Canada-Mexico relations. In fact, this year marks not only the 70th anniversary of bilateral relations between our two great countries, but also the 20th anniversary of NAFTA and the 10th anniversary of the Canada-Mexico partnership.
As Prime Minister Harper said during his official visit to Mexico just this past February, “Canada and Mexico share a special relationship as friends, allies and strategic partners in a broad range of areas.”
Those areas include trade, investment, energy, security, governance, migration, education, and, of course, travel and tourism. These exchanges, these partnerships with Mexico are multiplying and, because we are in one of the busiest airports in Canada, I would remiss if I did not mention the expanded Canada-Mexico air transport agreement that was signed during the Prime Minister’s visit to Mexico, which is bringing direct benefit to this airport and to international airports and domestic airports that are receiving traffic directly and indirectly from Mexico all across this country.
Once it is ratified, that agreement will improve business opportunities in the aviation sector for Canada and Mexico by authorizing more direct flights between our two countries, regardless of the number of airlines.
So we’re moving to a new level of liberalization in our commercial aviation, civil aviation relations, which will foster increased trade, investment and tourism, which will, in turn, provide direct immediate and long-lasting economic benefits to Canada.
Our government is proud to note that tourism between Canada and Mexico is truly taking off. Mexico is already Canada's second-largest air transport market. Over 1.9 million Canadians visited Mexico and its magnificent cities and beaches in 2012, and in 2013, if I'm not mistaken, some 2.2 million Canadians travelled to Mexico.
For its part, Canada remains a destination of choice for Mexican tourists, business travellers and students. In fact, over 69 000 visitor visas and study permits were issued to Mexican citizens last year. Today, we are here to announce that we are taking real action to make it faster and easier to come to Canada.
So after a very successful six-month pilot phase, I’m pleased to officially launch CAN+ as a permanent program which will streamline and expedite visa processing for an expected 50% of more of Mexican visitors traveling to Canada.
CAN+ is open to Mexican citizens who’ve previously traveled to Canada or the United States in the past 10 years. By fast-tracking a large number of applications, CAN+ is freeing up visa officers to work on other cases. As a result, the program is improving overall processing times for all Mexican travellers.
It currently takes less than ten days on average to process a regular visa application at our visa office in Mexico, in Mexico City, one of our largest offices in the world, but with CAN+, visas are issued within seven days, so in seven days or less, with an approval rate of over 95%.
CAN+ is the most recent example of a series of programs available to Mexican applicants to make it easier and faster for them to apply for a visa and visit Canada.
There is also the Business Express program, to help Mexican businesspeople to come to Canada faster. Visas are issued within a few days, with an approval rate of nearly 100%, and I have heard positive comments about those programs from a number of Montreal businesses in recent months.
Another program, Travel Express, offers a fast, simplified visa application experience for tourists who use travel agencies registered with the Canadian embassy.
And the Student Pilot program fast-tracks the processing of study permits for Mexican students attending participating educational institutions in Canada, again with an approval rate of nearly 100%.
With CAN+, multiple-entry visas, and express programs for business travellers, tourists and students, we are more determined than ever to ensure that more and more Mexicans can come to Canada.
Today's announcement is a further demonstration of our government's position, Facilitating legitimate travel and trade will yield economic benefits for both countries. We are building on the positive results obtained through existing programs, as well as our recent adoption of the multiple-entry visa system, which makes it easier for foreign travellers, including Mexicans, to come to Canada.
The vast majority of visitor visas currently issued to Mexicans are multiple-entry visas, which allow visa holders to travel to Canada for over six months, for a maximum period of 10 years, without having to reapply each time.
This means that with most visas issued by our Mexico City office now, we don't know how many times those people come to Canada each year. Business travellers can make several visits a year. Students can come here to study but go home for Christmas and summer holidays, without having to reapply at the visa office.
Last month alone, multiple-entry visas accounted for 95% of all visas issued. So in 95% of cases, Mexicans who get their Canadian visas won't need to reapply for years, often for ten years. It depends on how long their passports are valid. If it's a five-year passport, they'll have to reapply when they get their passport renewed, but that's still tremendous progress, which is greatly appreciated by Mexicans, and by our partners and stakeholders here in Canada who depend on our relations with Mexico and are determined to strengthen them.
By making multiple-entry visas the standard, we are adapting to meet the needs of foreign travellers looking for flexible, fast, practical solutions to come to Canada, and yes, we understand that we are facing substantial, demanding global competition, but with our immigration programs, with our programs for visitors from around the world, we are winning that competition and rising to today's challenges.
Thanks to these visas and the official launch of CAN+, our government continues to increase the number of visitors to Canada while reducing red tape. This announcement shows that Canada remains open to economic growth while preserving the integrity of our immigration system. Increased travel to Canada will benefit both our countries and promote economic growth, job creation, long-term prosperity, and will boost business here at the Montréal Airport.
So thank you very much, everyone, and I will now take your questions.