FOREIGN SERVICE WORKERS’ STRIKE WILL HURT BOTH FOREIGN AND CANADIAN STUDENTS

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Permanent resident visa backlogs will get worse, businesses will suffer

 

BY RATTAN MALL

 

 

Richard Kurland

 

EXACTLY how the federal government plans to deal with the escalating foreign service workers’ strike action remains a mystery, but in the meantime both foreign and Canadian students will have to pay a heavy price of it, families will have to wait longer to be united with their loved ones and businesses of all kinds will continue to suffer.
 
Well-known immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, Editor-in-Chief of Canada’s foremost immigration publication, Lexbase, told Asian Journal on Tuesday that both students and schools will suffer come September.
 
Kurland explained: “The schools suffer because they are going to have empty seats in the classroom that normally would be filled by foreign students. Foreign students pay higher students fees than Canadian students. So who is going to fill that gap?”
 
He added: “The number of foreign students coming to Canada is so important that universities and colleges rely on that additional revenue. And so if that additional revenue does not materialize because of a labour dispute, who’s going to pay the difference? Is it going to be the government, provincial or federal, meaning taxpayers? Or will it be the students in Canada who next year may face higher student fees?”
 
That indeed is a disconcerting development.
 
Also, this may virtually turn a student’s life upside down. As Kurland noted: “People will not be able to re-enter Canada without the appropriate paperwork. They won’t be allowed to board the airplane. And that means that it is an involuntary sabbatical from studies. That helps no one.”
 
BUSINESSES, too, are being harmed. Kurland told me: “I found cases today where large Canadian companies cannot get work permits or temporary residency processed in a timely manner and so now the Canadian companies are looking for their options. The work is getting transferred elsewhere [outside Canada].”
 
Also, Tourism Industry Association of Canada President David Goldstein told the media that the strike would cost the industry about $18 million a week.
 
Then there is the problem of more delays in issuing permanent resident visas.
 
Kurland pointed out that these delays do not help to unite families. He added: “Then there is the problem of how long is it going to take to digest this new and growing backlog caused by the labour dispute. So even when the labour dispute is done, the backlog has to be processed.”

 

SO what exactly is the dispute about?
 
Kurland explained: “It was a long time coming and everyone knew it was happening. It’s a combination of new technology – Internet uploading of documents and e-mail – combined with the new practice of hiving-off to the private sector a lot of Canada’s visa operations to private “visa application centres.” So the combo of privatization and new technology has created redundancies.”
 
He added: “It’s in Canada’s interest to do this because we are going to get more visas processed faster and for less money. We just don’t need the same number of people doing the work. So it’s the ‘last stand’ for many employees in this labour dispute.”
Kurland told Asian Journal that there are probably only 170 Canadian visa officers globally and they are responsible for literally over a million visas annually, including about 300,000 permanent resident visas and a lot of temporary resident visas, student visas and work permits.

 

ANY solution as contract negotiations have reached an impasse?
 
Kurland said: “I don’t know how strongly the union can push because at some point it is in the national interest to ensure visas are produced. There’s a global visa application centre structure in place and it would not take long to have qualified individuals, even retired visa officers, lured into service with sweetheart contracts, and an offer to the existing visa officers to be transferred to other jobs in government with no wage reduction. You’d be surprised how fast it all can be done.”
 
He added: “There are large numbers of federally regulated immigration consultants who are former visa officers and now, they can have an offer to ‘double dip.’ They’ll still get their pension, which must be paid anyway, and the retirees can have the chance to back doing the same job, perhaps at the same pay  or possibly less than the price currently paid to visa officers. Existing visa officers need not fired, but can continue on at the present wage by transferring to other places in government. It’s not a bad deal if the price is right. If people play their cards right, everyone can walk away happy. So it can be done.”
 
So when can we expect the federal government to act?
 
Kurland said: “Typically the July-August period is slow season in immigration issues but we have a crisis here that will become bubbly and frothy by September, so when the House of Commons opens for business in late September-October, there is a chance for a quick fix.”