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Critics slam Canada’s closure of 6 visa offices

The Canadian government has closed six visa offices abroad in what it says is a step toward streamlining and modernising immigration and citizenship operations. Critics say the move complicates foreign relations and will affect Canada’s ability to attract foreign students.

Students must now submit applications to offices in different countries

On 30 April Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced the Visa and Immigration Sections at the Canadian Embassies in Germany, Japan, and Iran and the Canadian High Commissions in Malaysia and Bangladesh would close to the public. An additional office was closed in Serbia on 9 May.

“This can destroy years of hard work of establishing relationships and investment with these countries”

“Under the rationale of modernization, with no consultation and seemingly little thought or direction, these important visa offices are being shuttered,” wrote Randall Martin, the executive director of the British Columbia Council for International Education  in a highly critical editorial for The Province. “Each closure represents a huge economic loss to B.C. and Canadian economies.”

In addition to longer than normal waiting times (almost 13 weeks) students must now submit applications to offices in different countries – a move critics say is culturally insensitive.

“Why couldn’t the applications simply be sent to Canada as opposed to moving them around to different countries?” Languages Canada Executive Director Gonzalo Peralta said.

“There’s no assurance that any of the processes are going to be respected in terms of time or quality. How does a visa officer in Manila understand the Japanese reality? We’re not speaking about numbers here. We’re speaking about cultures.”

International education accounts for more than CAN$6.5 billion nationally and for over 83,000 direct jobs. Some fear the new closures will compel students to take their money to competitors like the USA or Australia which have recently taken measures to ease the student visa process.

“There is an unsurprising and direct correlation between the ease of accessing a student visa and the ability or desire of a student and her family to make the effort and choose to study in a given jurisdiction,” said Martin. “Every obstacle that is put in the way renders another decision easier.”

“How does a visa officer in Manila understand the Japanese reality?”

To add insult to injury, diplomats and industry players were not informed about the closures until after the fact.

“I’m surprised, yes, very surprised,” Malaysian High Commissioner Hayati Binti Ismail told Postmedia News. “For us, it’s going to cause a bit of trouble.” She added that 800 Malaysians studying in Canada will be affected.

Similarly, Bangladesh’s top diplomat in Canada charge d’affaires Nahida Shumona, said she also didn’t know the Canadian visa office in her country was being closed until reading about it in the news.

“We’re not against streamlining. In fact we’ve been asking for it,” said Peralta. “But it’s how it’s done that can be insulting and [this can] destroy years and years of hard work of establishing relationships and investment with these countries.”

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