CANADA is a destination that draws many to visit, study or call home, thanks to the friendly and welcoming attitude this country has come to be known for.
Unfortunately, those virtues do not extend to its visa regime – at least not to Malaysian passport holders. In 2002, Canada imposed visa requirements on Malaysians in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States of America, citing “security concerns” with our passports.
Fast forward to the present day, the Malaysian passport is consistently ranked among the most powerful in Asia and the world in terms of the number of countries that can be visited without a visa.
Unfortunately, Canada remains excluded from that list of countries.
The Malaysian passport has also been upgraded several times since 2002 to ensure its integrity and even adopted biometric technology in 2010, three years before Canada did the same with its passports.
While every nation has the sovereign right to determine its own entry requirements, it is hard to understand why Malaysians can visit destinations such as the Schengen countries, Britain, New Zealand, Japan and Australia without a visa or with an electronic travel authorisation easily obtained online but not Canada.
Similarly, it is also intriguing to note that among the top 25 passports on the Henley Passport Index 2019, Malaysia is the only country to require a visa to visit Canada despite ranking 13th on the list.
It is one thing if the visa application process were simple and straightforward, but that could not be further from the truth. After completing the myriad of required forms, gathering the required paperwork to prove one’s ties to Malaysia, having one’s photo taken according to certain specifications, and paying CAD$185 per person, one still has to be physically present at the Visa Application Centre in downtown Kuala Lumpur to submit one’s fingerprints.
What follows is a wait that can take weeks, and only after one’s application is approved can passports be sent to its High Commission in Singapore for visa stamping, which would take at least another week.
What is even more ironic is how applications are processed in Singapore, a country which itself enjoys visa-free access to Canada.
It is as if the Canadian government places so little value in its relationship with Malaysia. The visa application process is truly a shame for Malaysians who are subjected to such hassle and indignity, especially since Canadians can visit Malaysia without the slightest concern over visa requirements.
Sadly, there seems to be no clear attempt by either side to resolve this issue. Dialogue between Canada and Malaysia is the first step towards resolving this issue, as our two countries have everything to gain by forging a closer relationship and promoting legitimate travel.
In recent years, Canada has lifted visa requirements for Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Romania and Bulgaria due in no small part to its desire to foster bilateral relations with these countries. I can only hope it extends such a desire to Malaysia, a fellow member of the Commonwealth.