The federal government is making it easier for some Mexicans to travel to Canada, but will not scrap a controversial visa requirement that has led to a strained relationship between the two countries.

Under a new program called CAN+, Mexican nationals who have travelled to Canada or the United States within the last 10 years will be eligible for expedited visa processing.

The program will speed up visa processing for an estimated 50 per cent of Mexican nationals travelling to Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said Monday in a statement announcing the initiative.

In a six-month pilot project testing the program, visas were issued within seven days, and more than 95 per cent of applications were approved.

"By making the CAN+ program permanent, our government is making it easier and faster for Mexican travellers to come to Canada to do business, visit family or friends, or bolster Canada's tourism industry,” Alexander said in the statement.

“This will further strengthen relations with our valued NAFTA partner and will help foster economic growth in both our countries."

The new program frees up visa officers to work on other applications, speeding up the overall processing times for visas for Mexican travellers to 10 days or less, the statement said.

More than 34,000 visitor visas, as well as student and work permits, were issued to Mexican nationals this year between January and April, an increase of 20 per cent compared to 2013, according to the government.

Since 2009, Mexican travellers seeking to come to Canada have been required to apply for a travel visa. The government said the move was necessary to curb a growing number of bogus refugee claims.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto raised the issue when Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited ahead of the Three Amigos summit in February.

While Pena Nieto said he was encouraged by Harper’s willingness to discuss the issue, Harper said Canada had no immediate plans to lift the visa requirement.

“We have clear criteria in Canada, why we do or do not have visas,” Harper said at a joint news conference with Pena Nieto. “It’s based on security criteria of national and public security, and illegal migration.”