Canadian embassy strikes delaying student visas

July 15, 2013

Strikes by foreign service officers at Canadian embassies are causing delays in student visa processing and threatening the busy summer season, with the Russian outbound market particularly affected.

Photo: Shutterstock

The industrial action by the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (Pafso), relating to pay disputes between the union and the federal government, has seen walkouts by immigration officers and applications delayed. Tim Edwards, Head of Pafso, told CBC News that the number of visas issued at major centres in June dropped by 60 to 65 per cent, with more than half of 51 application centres exceeding their 14-day processing target.

Russian agency Students International contacted Study Travel Magazine (STM) to advise that strikes in Moscow are having a significant impact on summer business. Igor Mishurov, Deputy Director, said the company had already lost around 50 students due to delays.

In an open letter to Canadian educators, delivered to STM, Mishurov wrote, “The year 2013 has had two polar tendencies: growth in the number of students, but huge delays in visa issuance to Canadian summer language courses.”

Questioning the timing of the strike, Mishurov added, “The Canadian Government and educational institutions invest into the Russian market much more than other countries. What will become of these multi-million dollar investments when agencies say, ‘We are fed up with your Embassy’s bureaucratic hurdles?’”

Although this year’s strikes have exacerbated the problem, Mishurov said summer visa delays have been a long-running issue. “It was estimated that last year we recruited 300 students less than targeted because of visa delays. Last summer, when the visa procedure was taking up to three months and some visas for summer courses were issued in October, some agencies closed down their Canadian destinations and even whole regional offices. This year, it seems the Embassy is working hard towards turning these some into many.”

The Association of Russian Education Advisors (Area) supported Mishurov’s letter, said Board Member Anna Ryzhova, an agent working closely with the Canadian market. “The clients of the agencies are mostly upset by the uncertain timing frame for the files to be considered by the Embassy and unexpected extension of the processing time in the middle of the high season for short-term study trips.” She added that considerable Canadian investment in the Russian market could be undermined by visa processing.

A statement placed on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website at the beginning of the industrial action in June warned, “Posted processing times for temporary and permanent resident visa applications do not take into account work stoppages. Anyone applying for a visa should anticipate delays and submit their application as far in advance as possible.”

The statement said contingency plans were in place to keep offices open and provide a minimum level of service, adding that priority would be given to humanitarian applications.

Other markets are also suffering from longer processing times. In Brazil, one of Canada’s key source countries, Maria Gabarra, Executive Director of agency association Belta, said members had experienced some delays, although this was mostly caused by seasonal demand rather than strikes. Visas were taking between 20 and 30 days to process, she said, compared with the usual 10-day timescale. She said there were cases of clients both postponing trips and changing destinations.

Concerns have also been expressed over the forthcoming academic year. “The crunch is coming for September admissions,” said Paul Brennan, Vice President of the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC) to CBC News. “We’re quite worried that unless this is resolved or special measures are taken, students will not get their visas in time.”
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