The Canadian Embassy last week warned of significant delays in the processing of visas to UAE residents due to the ongoing work interruption of Canadian Foreign Service officers.
Students, visitors and workers are most affected as their applications are timely.
Last week the Canadian Embassy closed its doors for one day when its officers walked out in protest of failed arbitration with the Canadian Government over the payment of Foreign Service Officers.
However, negotiations have dragged over the last couple of months and immigration officers have walked out for unspecified time, causing significant delays in the processing of visas for UAE residents.
It is the temporary visa application, not the permanent resident visa that is at stake, explains Jorawar Singh, assistant general manager of WWICS, an immigration consultancy company in Dubai.
"We have seen many delays in the processing of visas for students, workers and visitors to Canada."
An overall concern is voiced about the many students intending to attend higher education in Canada, as university courses are set to start in September and students are urged to arrive in Canada by the end of August.
Premiers, another immigration consultancy office in Dubai said to have experienced delays in student visas for the past eight months.
"Potential student visa applicants are getting more concerned," said Sohail Saleem, General Manager.
"Because of the uncertain situation and longer process they do not want to initiate the process with the Canadian Institutes as they are not sure whether they can get their visas before their classes start or not, and they may as well have to face the risk of struggling through another process of claiming refund of initial fee deposited to the university/institute in case they will not get visa in time."
On the Facebook page of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO)– the union which represents Canada’s non-executive diplomats, messages of frustrated applicants are abundant.
One such message reads: "A close friend of mine has been attending U of T for three years as an international students, and has applied to the Abu Dhabi Embassy for a renewal of his study permit approximately 5 weeks ago.
“He just received a letter requesting his medical info. From what I understand, this is the last stage of the application process.
“Within these 15 embassies, is there anyone still working who could potentially finalise the process, within the next 4 weeks?"
Some universities have taken steps to accommodate delayed students. McGill, a Quebec-based university has informed international students that arrangements will be made for all those who will not be able to arrive in Canada before September 17, 2013 to start at later terms.
"We have been informed that due to labour disruptions at CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada), there are significant delays in the processing of student visas (study permits) in many countries, so it is very important to submit your application quickly. We recommend that you apply online," it added.
Also concerned are visa applicants with a Canada job at hand, as their applicants are often based on a work contract specifying a specific period of employment. Canada offers federal as well as provincial temporary work visas to skilled workers whose labour is in demand and required by specific companies.
On the PAFSO Facebook page applicants have pleaded the association to find a solution as quick as possible, as they might miss their job opportunity, have had to cancel several flights, made financial loses or missed seeing loved ones.
Although delays of visa processing have been confirmed, the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) said to work towards minimising the delays where possible.
"All visa offices, including Abu Dhabi, remain open and continue to provide service to clients. Over 1,000 locally engaged staff continue to work in the visas offices overseas, and CIC has hired additional staff on a temporary basis to help process visas both overseas and in Canada.
"Moreover, CIC is providing training on an urgent basis so that more staff can process applications, and is requesting that staff work overtime where possible.
CIC is also shifting more work to Canada and to overseas offices that have additional capacity," it said in a statement to Emirates 24|7.
Students who are concerned that their visa might not be processed on time to arrive in Canada for the first semester may submit a letter from an educational institution indicating that the institution would accept a late arrival, specifying until when, and/or that the acceptance letter is also valid for the same course starting the next semester, CIC said.
"These letters are taken into consideration by visa officers, along with all other documents, when assessing the application."
According to Sohail the current delays have a negative impact on immigration to Canada. "The processing times were already not very efficient at the Canadian Embassies and consulates, and the current crisis is surely making the situation even worse.
"Canada used be a dream destination for immigrants, and many students would opt for Canada for higher education if the processing times were favourable. The authorities at the helm should consider these facts and set things right at the earliest," he said.
Humanitarian urgent visa requests
Meanwhile, humanitarian urgent visa requests are said to be processed without interruption, as these are dealt with by officers whose work is essential.
CIC stated: "Every visa office maintains a core number of staff that have been deemed “essential." Processing of urgent humanitarian visa applications are essential work in all visa offices. Anyone applying for a visa should submit their application as far in advance as possible."
It is not clear if delays are also experienced in urgent cases.
Foreign Service Officers have been interrupting work since April 2, 2013 based on the grounds that the Canadian government has refused to negotiate their main aim: equal pay for equal work.
"Foreign Service officers are subjected to a series of unfair and demoralising wage gaps at all four levels of our pay scale compared to other federal professionals performing similar or identical work," clarified PAFSO.