Canada has suspended the processing of all visa applications from the West African countries affected by the Ebola epidemic.
“There is an outbreak of a communicable disease in several regions of West Africa,” the instruction said. “The entry into Canada of persons who have recently been in those regions may introduce or contribute to the spread of the disease in Canada.”
Canadian visa posts in the region have immediately stopped processing both pending and new applications for travel and immigration from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
The ban also applies to those who have “resided, travelled or transited” in an Ebola affected country in the three-month period prior to the issuance of a visa. Processing fees will be refunded in those cases. However, “discretionary relief” would be granted to facilitate entry to Canada in justified cases.
“The precautionary measures announced today build on actions we have taken to protect the health and safety of Canadians here at home,” Alexander said in a statement.
“Our government continues to monitor the situation in West Africa very closely and will continue to act in the best interests of Canadians.”
Although Australia has already restricted admissions of visitors from countries battling Ebola, immigration experts say it’s a rare move by Canada.
“It is an unusual step,” said Toronto lawyer Mario Bellissimo, former chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration law section. “(Canada) has the right to ensure a visitor is not a danger to the public, but this is targeting everyone from a region . . . . The question is: Is this an overreaction?”
While preventing potential virus-carriers from coming to Canada is a more effective disease control than medical screening at the borders, Bellissimo said the suspension on travellers from an entire country could potentially breach the Charter of Rights.
Both the UNMEER (the United Nations’ Ebola mission) and African presidents from the affected areas have asked Western countries to avoid such visa bans.
Australia’s move this week was criticized by World Health Organization director general Dr. Margaret Chan, who questioned the effectiveness of border closing in halting the spread of Ebola.