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Canada: internal reviews uncover delays in visa processing

Canada’s visa woes continue as multiple internal government reviews have revealed delays and errors in visa processing, seeing processing times increase by a third for study permits and double for permanent residence permits.

Houses of Parliament, Ottawa. Photo: Follow spettacolopuro.

"It is obvious that government does not treat international education strategically and it often seems as if one hand gives while the other takes away"

The federal government has failed to provide sufficient resources to keep up with rising demand from international students, a report obtained by the Globe and Mail through Freedom of Information legislation shows, despite its target to double the number of incoming students by 2022.

“As long as there isn’t a cohesive, integrated, and collaborative approach to international education in Canada, we will continue to suffer visa woes”

A “lack of coordination” between federal departments is also to blame for the delays, reducing the programme’s competitiveness, the report says.

The problem of insufficient resources comes down to priorities in government, according to Gonzalo Peralta, executive director of Languages Canada.

“CIC works hard to improve its systems, and there is ample evidence of that, but it is obvious that government does not treat international education strategically and it often seems as if one hand gives (a little) while the other takes away,” he told The PIE News.

“As long as there isn’t a cohesive, integrated, and collaborative approach to international education in Canada with leadership from our government, we will continue to suffer visa woes,” he continued.

“The fact that we continue to grow as a sector is more evidence of the attractiveness of Canada’s education system, society, and culture than a solid national strategy,” he contended.

Members of the Canadian Bureau for International Education are also “deeply concerned about the ballooning processing times that affect both their current and prospective students”, according to its vice-president, membership, public policy and communications, Jennifer Humphries.

“Timeliness, or its opposite, makes a huge difference in the choices that students make for their future,” she told The PIE News.

“To achieve the ambitions of Canada’s International Education Strategy, it is critical that government departments work together cohesively and make their shared objectives the priority, not departmental interests,” she urged. “It’s also critical that sufficient resources be allocated to deliver on the objectives.”

A further three internal “quality management” reviews seen by the Toronto Star have revealed a “high error rate” in visa processing in Canada that could cause backlogs in processing permanent residence applications.

The three reports into permanent residence, refugee work permits and Canadian Experience Class – the fastest path to achieving permanent residence for international graduates – showed that errors by staff such as failing to use correct form letters, address missing documents and provide accurate timelines, are damaging the overall “efficiency of the system”.

“The number of request letters not sent, sent incomplete or unclear create a negative impact on both clients and the Case Processing Centre”

The situation is also affecting individual applications. At one immigration processing centre dealing with permanent residence applications in Vegreville, Alberta, human errors were found in 617 letters requesting documents sent to applicants, or 62% of files reviewed between November 1 and December 6, 2013.

“An important area of concerns resides with the letters,” reads an evaluation of operations at Vegreville, the Star reports. “The number of request letters not sent, sent incomplete or unclear at initial stage and later on create a negative impact on both clients and the Case Processing Centre.”

“It delays the processing, causes more waiting times for clients and increases the work for staff,” it continues. “It also increases the amount of whitemail received at [Vegreville] when clients reply to unnecessary requests or seek clarification.”

According to CIC, the department has recently eliminated some of the problems uncovered by the reviews by working to ensure “perfected applications” are submitted at the beginning of the process.

“With this practice, we have been able to identify missing or invalid information earlier,” a spokesperson told The Toronto Star.

“This has helped to make huge gains in efficiencies at other processing centres, as it allows us to communicate with applicants in a more clear and timely manner, therefore streamlining the process.”

Historically Canada has struggled with visa processing times with delays stretching up to seven months in 2012 due to budget cuts, increased demand and application quality from specific markets.

A six-month foreign service officer strike the following year compounded the problem, with visa issuance dropping by 25%.

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