Immigration Minister John McCallum says Canadian officials are heavily engaged in talks with the European Commission, Bulgaria and Romania about entry visa requirements.
McCallum said Tuesday that Ottawa has not offered Bulgarians and Romanians a full waiver on entry visas, but has offered them something called "Canada plus," which he said will result in easier access for regular travellers.
The minister made his remarks on the same day the European Commission urged member states and lawmakers to begin "urgent talks" on how to respond after Canada failed to lift entry visa requirements for Bulgarians and Romanians.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the European Commission said EU nations should "urgently launch discussions" on the "most appropriate way forward," and take a respective position on the issue by July 12 at the latest.
The issue stems from the fact that Ottawa requires Bulgarians and Romanians obtain visas before travelling to Canada, even though both countries became part of the EU in 2007. Because these entry visa requirements were not lifted on Tuesday, the EU is mandated to impose those same restrictions on Canadians.
This means that Canadians could be required to obtain visas to travel to 26 EU member countries. Americans face the same possibility, as the U.S. currently requires visas from citizens of five EU member countries, including Bulgaria and Romania.
Immigration and refugee lawyer Joel Sandaluk said if the EU decides to require Canadians to obtain visas, the imposition of the regulations could take anywhere from four to nine months.
The regulatory process could also be stopped at any point by an EU member state, he said. This means that Canadians with upcoming spring and summer holiday plans in Europe likely don't have to worry.
Sandaluk said the visa restrictions are in place due to past migration patterns.
"In Canada's experience, Romanians and Bulgarians have a higher rate than most other European nationals of over-staying their stays in Canada or being denied admission to Canada," he told CTV's Canada AM.
"So Canada has imposed a requirement on nationals of those countries to basically assess their eligibility before they enter Canada."
The EU expects Canada to have reciprocity for all European nationals, and because Europe doesn't require visas for Canadians it expects Canada to extend the same courtesy to European nationals.
However, Canada's visa policy is not based on reciprocity.
McCallum said the EU's demand for full reciprocity will have to be negotiated. "There are various processes that are complex with the European Union," he told The Canadian Press.
He added: "At the end of the day we'll find a resolution, but we are not there yet."
In 2013, U.K., France, Italy, Germany and Spain were among the top 10 countries Canadians visited and spent more than $1 billion, according to Statistics Canada. A visa policy for Canadians, therefore, could result in a major hit to the European tourism industry.
If visa requirements are imposed on Canadian travellers, it would only affect the 26 countries of the EU's Schengen Area, with Britain and Ireland remaining exempt from the policy.
The visa dispute comes during a year in which Canada and the EU are hoping to ratify the landmark CETA free-trade deal.
McCallum said he's not concerned how the visa dispute might affect the trade deal.
Originally posted by Marlene Leung, CTVNews.ca
With files from The Canadian Press