Strike Impairs Student Visas
Nicole Halseth, News
According to an article on the PressTV “Canada’s striking foreign service workers are to shut down all its services at the country’s 15 largest visa processing centers abroad, following a failed attempt to go to arbitration to settle a wage dispute with the government.” This process, an escalation of pre-existing strike action, officially began on 29 July and will affect embassies in Abu Dhabi, Ankara, Beijing, Cairo, Delhi/Chandigarh, Hong Kong, London, Manila, Mexico City, Moscow, Paris, Riyadh, Sao Paulo and Shanghai, where Foreign Services workers have pledged to withdraw all services. According to the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO), “the government of Canada bears sole and complete responsibility for these impacts.”
The strike began in April to protest what PAFSO believes to be an unfair distribution of wages, as the union believes that Foreign Services workers inside of Canada receive anywhere between $3000 and $14,000 more than Canadian counterparts working abroad. The strike escalated on July 26 after PAFSO attempted and failed to establish proper arbitration with Stephen Harper’s administration regarding these wage disparities.
Prior to this arbitration, Treasury Board President Tony Clement insisted on several conditions that the union would have to meet before any agreement could be reached. This included barring mention of other civil workers who do similar work from the arbitration process. However, as this forms the basis of the wage disparity issue at the heart of PAFSO’s complaints, they were unable to agree to this condition. Furthermore, according to a statement released by the union, some of these preconditions were “so paralyzing that their acceptance would have predetermined the outcome of arbitration in the government’s favor and negated the purpose and integrity of the process.”
The suspension of all services in the visa centers listed above has already had numerous negative effects, notably in the areas of tourism and education. Students around the world have been forced to withdraw from their educational institutions within Canada, and tourists have been forced to cancel their trips, due to complications with the visa process and in some cases, the complete inability to receive one at all. As so many communities rely on tourism to boost their local economies, and international students form a solid proportion of the total student base in Canada, these withdrawals and cancellations have the potential to hit very hard in the upcoming year.
If this wage dispute is not resolved by the fall, other civil workers represented by five other unions, such as prison guards and border guards, are planning to take similar actions. This may affect Prince George in the next few months. UNBC has likely already felt these effects, due to complications in the visa process, which may have hindered or discouraged some of UNBC’s international student population. Even if it has not yet had a substantial impact on UNBC students, as the application deadline for international students fell before the escalation of this action, it may have a greater impact in the January semester. However, further escalation would likely result in broader setbacks to daily life in our city. Only time will tell.