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Foreign service job action threatens Canada’s annual immigration target

Permanent residency applicants appear to be taking the biggest hit from ongoing job action by foreign affairs officers, prompting concerns about whether Ottawa’s 2013 immigration target can be met.

According to government data obtained by the Star, the number of immigrant visas granted from May to July of this year has dropped 7.5 per cent, to 60,416 individuals. That compares to 65,255 in the same period last year and a whopping 22 per cent drop from the same three-month period in 2010.The numbers appear to bolster claims by the foreign service workers’ union that staff are being diverted to process temporary resident visa applications — for applicants like tourists and international students — at the expense of permanent resident files, which the government denies.

The processing of permanent resident visas has been ground to a standstill at a number of (visa) sections we targeted,” said Timothy Edwards, president of the Professional Association of Foreign Services Officers (PAFSO), whose members have implemented rotating strikes and work-to-rule at busy visa posts such as Beijing and Shanghai in China, Delhi and Chandigarh in India, Mexico City and Manila.“All the resources have been thrown at processing the temporary resident visas. They are going to fall far short on their annual immigration target (of 260,000).”

Edwards said his 1,350 members have been instructed to focus on processing student and tourist visas, while resources at immigration offices in Canada have also been redirected to mitigate the workload and backlog abroad. Since PAFSO began its job action in April, the number of temporary visas issued to foreign visitors, students and workers from its top 10 countries has actually risen by 11 per cent to 296,531, from the same time in 2012. Ottawa has been under tremendous pressure from the tourism industry, universities and colleges, and employers to ensure that Canada’s $17 billion tourism industry and $7.7 billion international education sector would not be affected by the labour dispute.But the government denies moving resources around as a way to deal with the strike.

 “It is typical that Citizenship and Immigration Canada shifts resources during the summer months from permanent resident application processing to temporary resident application processing to meet an increased demand for visitor visas and study permits during these months,” department spokesperson Glenn Johnson said in an email to the Star. Citizenship and Immigration Canada said additional Canadian staff have been loaned on a temporary basis to help process visas. The union said that could compromise the integrity and security of Canada’s immigration system because the substitute staff do not have the same experience and expertise.“CIC is providing training on an urgent basis so that more staff can process applications and is requesting staff work overtime where possible,” department spokesperson Glenn Johnson wrote in an email.

 “CIC is also shifting more work to Canada and to overseas offices that have additional capacity. Processing of urgent humanitarian visa applications is essential work in all visa offices.” There is still no resolution in sight as the job action enters its sixth month.

In November, Sarah Hedley applied to sponsor her British husband, Christopher Hedley, as a permanent resident from within Canada. Sponsorship is a two-step process: the sponsor must be first approved by officials before the sponsored spouse is assessed. The first stage usually takes six months; the second stage, eight months.Hedley, 24, said she has been checking the immigration department’s processing time counter on a regular basis and noticed only recently that the expected processing time for stage one has been extended to 10 months.

They used to update it every week, but the counter stopped moving at the end of April. Now they are saying it will take up to 10 months just for step one,” said a frustrated Hedley, who works three jobs to support herself and her husband because he is not allowed to work while awaiting the initial approval for the first stage. So as not to jeopardize the application, Christopher Hedley, a Leeds native, could not leave Canada to visit his ailing grandmother, who died of cancer on Sept. 3. If he leaves Canada, the current application would be forfeited and he would have to reapply from overseas.

 “Chris is willing to work. He wants to work and is able to work. It’s devastating that he has to sit at home and wait and wait,” said Hedley, adding that her husband has been volunteering for a community group helping local seniors. The 296,531 temporary resident visas issued this summer to the top 10 nationalities include 242,316 tourist visas, 21,514 work permits and 32,701 student visas. The number of temporary visas approved fell dramatically in May and June during the early stage of the foreign workers’ strike, and caught up in July only after the tourism industry and education sector raised their concerns to the media. In China, for instance, the number of tourist visas issued in 2012 fell from 29,788 and 26,190 in May and June, respectively, to 20,648 and 24,854 this past May and June. But in July, the number of visas approved to Chinese visitors almost doubled, to 35,586 from 17,855 last year. The labour dispute centres on Ottawa’s refusal to close the wage gap between foreign affairs workers and their counterparts in similar types of work. Closing the gap will incur a $4 million one-time cost.

 Visas issued from May to July:2012/2013

  • Visitors*226,837242,316
  • Foreign workers*15,82821,514
  • Foreign students*23,99232,701
  • Immigrants**65,25560,416

 *Numbers reflect figures from the top 10 source countries in each category

**Number represents the overall global number

This article first appeared HERE.

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