For Toronto-based immigration lawyer Ravi Jain, August is traditionally a busy month with university and college semesters just around the corner and many of his clients coming from India, which is the second-largest source country for students heading to Canadian universities, next only to China.
This year, however, the situation has not been to Jain’s liking, thanks to a long-running strike called by Canada’s foreign service officers that has severely affected processing of visas in India and other countries. His clients, who have obtained admission to popular institutions such as York University, George Brown College and Seneca College are stranded in India with no prospect of getting to Canada before the beginning of the first term in early September.
Student visas that took about a month are now taking three-four months, says Jain, a partner at the Toronto law firm, Green and Spiegel. “I’ve been advising my clients over the phone not to start packing their bags yet. Many of them are even willing to double my fees. I’m saying, ‘save your money because I can’t help you right now, you need to get a deferral and go for the January intake’,” says Jain.
While students are among the worst affected by the strike due to the academic calendar, the delays in visa processing will also impact the plans of thousands of visitors, temporary workers and potential immigrants from India. India is home to Canada’s largest overseas visa office, and the North American country issued a record number of visas to Indian nationals last year.
Canada’s Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) entered into a legal strike position on April 2, protesting what it described as a wage gap compared to other federal officers. Officers at missions around the world have withdrawn various services. In India, immigration services have been withdrawn in Delhi and Chandigarh. “Whether it is trade negotiations, political reporting or issuance of visas, delays can be seen everywhere and for all files of the foreign services,” said Chrystiane Roy, spokesperson for the Ottawa-based union.
The Canadian government assures that all visa offices are open and continue to provide services. “We have designated immigration visa officers’ positions overseas as essential and, therefore, they will not participate in any strike,” says Nancy Caron, the spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) at its Ottawa headquarters. According to PAFSO, only a small proportion of the visa officers are designated as