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Canada: Visa backlog troubling international students

An on-going labour dispute between the Canadian federal government and the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) union has created a lengthy visa backlog, as PAFSO union members in charge of processing visa applications have been “walking out of offices in Canada and overseas without advance notice”. The on-going strike, which started in April 2013, is not only affecting the Canadian tourism sector, but also the educational one, as Canada requires visas for foreign students from over 150 countries and territories, including Brazil, Mexico, China and India. All foreign students, regardless of their country of origin, also need a study permit. The strike action has been initiated in protest against unequal income compared to public servants with similar experience in other departments of the federal government (e.g. lawyers, economists or commerce officers), who allegedly receive between CAD 3 000 and CAD 14 000 (approx. EUR 2 100 and EUR 10 000) more in annual income. So far, the government’s response is that the wage hike is “neither fair nor reasonable for taxpayers” and talks between PAFSO and the Treasury Board of Canada came to a halt in late July, after the government’s refusal to enter into binding arbitration to resolve the dispute. Luckily, Citizenship and Immigration Canada has undertaken measures to put into place contingency plans, so that all offices provide at least a minimum level of service. Applications are thus still being processed, but at a much slower pace, and the priority is being given to urgent humanitarian applications. The slowdown is causing big concerns for the education sector, as some overseas students have already withdrawn from courses as they did not receive their visas on time. Concerned about Canada’s reputation as a popular study destination and the impact this could have on the country’s economy (international students paying up to EUR 15 000 a year in tuition fees), Canadian universities offer support to overseas students caught in the visa backlog (e.g. by putting off their start dates), in the hopes that these students will not run off to another country.