International students face visa delays

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As thousands of international students begin their Fall semester at McGill this week, visa delays caused by a strike at Canada’s foreign embassies may prevent some students from starting classes on time.

A strike conducted by the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) in 15 of some of Canada’s busiest foreign embassies has increased the time it takes to process a visa request by 65 per cent, according to a notice released by the Student Society of McGill University (SSMU). As a result, some international students may have to defer their enrolment by a semester or even a full year.

Currently, there are approximately 8,000 international students attending McGill, including 1,500  students who reside in a country where civil servants are on strike.  The affected embassies include Paris, London, Beijing, Moscow, Delhi, Mexico City, and Abu Dhabi .

Since 2011, PAFSO and the Canadian Government have been in a deadlock to form a new agreement. The strike started in April, when PAFSO announced it would cease its activities in 15 foreign embassies following a standstill in collective bargaining procedures. Their collective bargaining agreement expired in 2011.

At McGill, international students still waiting for their visas will be allowed late registration until Sept. 17. However, those affected by the visa delays may face serious challenges upon their late arrival at McGill.

“Students who arrive late—for example, as late as Sept. 17—will miss the first two weeks of class and orientation activities,” Kathleen Massey, University Registrar and Executive Director of Enrolment Services, said. “They will have to catch up on their studies and learn about McGill in a condensed period of time.”

“Those who cannot arrive by Sept. 17 have the opportunity to apply for a deferral of their admission offer,” she continued. “In most cases they can begin their studies at McGill in January. In some cases, their program may be structured in such a way that the deferral will be for one full year.  These options are helpful, but the students will lose some time in terms of beginning their university studies.”

According to Pauline L’Ecuyer, director of the International Students Office, the number of students affected by the delays is hard to estimate, but the majority of international students now have their visas.

“Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) transferred files to offices that were not affected by the strike; some visas got processed in Canada,” L’Ecuyer said. “In some offices, the processing delays are similar to last year’s. Certain countries [such as] India and China will take longer to process their visas.”

Janice Johnson, Interim Director of Residences and Student Housing, said that the effects of the strike have so far been minimal on the 800 students from outside the United States and Canada who live in McGill’s student residences.

“We have really not yet seen any impact of the visa delays—96 per cent of students with residence room assignments have moved in,” Johnson said. “To date, the number of students who have cancelled or not yet moved in is almost exactly the same as at this point last year, and on track with the numbers for the last five years.”

McGill has set up a series of accommodations for students who have been affected by visa delays. Residence rooms will be held for students until Sept. 17. Campus Life and Engagement will also be providing extra orientation and information sessions for new students until Sept. 17.

Furthermore, international students will be able to delay their August e-bill if they are unsure as to whether or not they may have to defer. Interest will be deferred from their August payment and they will have until the end of September to make their payment.

International students who are currently in Canada, who need simply to renew their documents will not be delayed, as the processing centre in Vegreville, Alberta was not affected by the strike.