Canadian immigration strike: Visa applicants face delays

A strike by Canadian visa and immigration staff has continued into its fourth month; there is currently no sign of the dispute being resolved. Some overseas students at Canadian universities are facing disruption to their academic studies because of the delays in obtaining visas. This is a particularly bad time for this to happen as the new academic year will start soon.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is taking steps to try and reduce the disruption caused to overseas student by expediting student visa applications and by encouraging students to make online visa applications. Online student visa applications can be dealt with by immigration staff in Canada who are not on strike.

The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) began a series of strikes on June 6th 2013. PAFSO staff work in Canadian embassies and consulates around the world. The strike action began in six particularly busy locations; Shanghai, Beijing, Delhi, Chandigarh, Manila and Mexico City.

Union argues its members are paid less than colleagues

The dispute concerns pay for PAFSO members. PAFSO says that staff in foreign embassies and consulates are paid less than their colleagues in equivalent positions in Canada. The Canadian government rejects PAFSO's claim saying that staff in foreign locations are given a series of allowances which compensate for lower basic pay.

There is no resolution in sight at present. CIC has said that foreign offices are open with limited staff so some applications are being processed but students in particular are concerned about delays to the application process.

Shawn Dearn of the Association of Canadian Community Colleges told the Canadian broadcaster CBC that CIC had been 'prioritising student visa requests'.

Film festivals may suffer

Organisers of the Montreal World Film Festival are also concerned that some prospective attendees may have difficulty obtaining the visas in time. The Festival begins on 26th September. The Vancouver International Film Festival may also be affected.

The opposition parties; the New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party, have urged the ruling Conservatives to negotiate with PAFSO to reach a settlement.

Both opposition parties say that the government is to blame for the dispute and should compromise to prevent further damage to Canada's reputation. They say that Canada stands to lose billions of dollars in international revenue.

Government says union demands are 'unjustified'

The Canadian government has refused to compromise. It says that PAFSO's demands are unjustified and it would be unfair to taxpayers to agree to them.

PAFSO is attempting to force the government into arbitration to settle the dispute. A decision from the labour board on this request is expected shortly.

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