Diplomat strike worries students

The ongoing Canadian Foreign Service strike was a source of stress for both international students and the University over the summer.

The federal government and the union representing Canadian diplomats and immigration officers abroad have been locked in a contract negotiation dispute for months. The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) say they want pay equal to that of other Canadian civil servants who perform similar or identical work. They currently earn $3,000 to $14,000 less than other civil servants, while the government maintains the comparison is not valid.

The union has been taking a variety of job action measures, including walkouts at fifteen key visa application centres such as Beijing, Delhi, Sao Paolo, and Mexico City. While visas and study permits are still being issued, the processing times are longer and much less reliable.

Mitali Sharan, a fifth-year student from India, was among those affected. She left Canada last April and had to renew her visa from the Canadian High Commission in Delhi. She said there was very little information provided. “Once you applied, there was no timeline given to anyone on when you’d get it back,” she explained. Sharan added that once the application had been submitted it was impossible to track its progress.

While Sharan received her visa within three weeks, she had rebooked her plane ticket to a later date due to the uncertainty, costing her family hundreds of dollars.

“It was a lot of stress,” she said.

Throughout the summer, the University monitored the strike closely, regularly sending out information to international students. The international centre and the admissions team were particularly involved, although “it was definitely a University-wide response to the word of the strike,” said Christa Maston, Mt. A’s International Advisor.

The situation caused much uncertainty for the International Centre and the Univeristy as a whole. Due to unreliable processing times, “even into August we weren’t really sure how many were going to be affected by it,” Maston explained.

Sharan was appreciative of the way the University handled the situation, “they [the University] were very on top of it,” she said.

Several first-year international students missed international orientation due to delays but have now arrived.  According to Maston, less than five new and returning students are still waiting to come to Mt. A.

Those students who are delayed have until September 13 to join this semester. If they are unable to arrive prior to that date they have been asked to defer until the winter term. In the meantime, all their fees and deposits would be refunded or applied to next term.

The impact on Mt. A was fairly minimal. “We’re very happy with how little of the impact we actually felt,” Maston said. The number of students participating in international orientation was even up from last year by more than ten students.

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