Long visa processing times are hurting scholars

The long processing times for obtaining a visitor’s visa to Canada are causing more and more headaches for conference organizers in Montreal and Toronto, who rely on the arrival of experts and participants from abroad. This difficulty in obtaining a visa in time complicates the holding of several of these major meetings, even going so far as to compromise them.

Originally from Morocco, Abdelaziz Blilid is collaborating with Stéphane Couture, a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Montreal, for a conference to be held in June in Montreal. Despite his wish to finally meet his Canadian colleague, whom he has never seen in person, Mr. Blilid is resigned. With an official deadline of 216 days on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website to obtain a visitor’s visa, the Moroccan professor has not even bothered to apply yet.

“If the situation remains as such, I will not apply for a visa, and I will miss this second conference too”, he drops, anticipating that he will have to attend it remotely. He’s starting to get used to it: the last time, a long delay of four months had also deterred him from applying for a visa to attend another colloquium.

Last summer, following an article reporting long processing times for visitor visas, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser reiterated his commitment to reducing wait times by the end of the year. 2022 to bring it back to service standards. However, as The duty revealed it on Wednesday, not only have the deadlines not dropped six months after the minister’s promise, but they have rather exploded.

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Stéphane Couture recently received a federal grant to organize this conference, at which 40 speakers and 200 participants are expected. He had in mind to invite experts from Senegal, Morocco and Cameroon with whom he collaborates. But in the face of the delays which are getting longer, in particular for Senegal, where they are 462 days, he is thinking of postponing everything. ” A [solution] would be to hold the conference in another country,” said the professor.

There’s a limit to never being able to meet

For him, these long processing times affect not only his research activities, but also his entire university. “There is an attractiveness that is not there. It’s not very serious,” he said. “The mission of the Université de Montréal is to be the most influential French-speaking university in the world. But if it takes a year and a half to get permission to come and visit Montreal […] while my Moroccan colleague says it takes him a week to be able to go to France…”

The organizers of major international events will think twice before choosing Montreal as the host city, fears Mr. Couture.

Several pitfalls

Long processing times, difficulty in obtaining information concerning the status of a request, last-minute acceptance or refusal: for having been responsible for the logistics of participants for various international congresses, Laura Sawyer, director general of the he International Communication Association (ICA) knows what it’s talking about.

Mme Sawyer herself had to intervene with embassies and consulates to help participants obtain visas allowing them to attend the various annual congresses of her association.

This year, the 73e The CIA Congress, which will take place at the end of May in Toronto, will welcome more than 4,000 participants, including more than 3,300 from outside Canada. And depending on their nationality, a large number of them will need the precious sesame.

“We share the frustration of scholars around the world with the difficulties of these international trips,” she told the Duty. Difficulties which have been exacerbated since the pandemic, she says, and which also have an impact on the logistics of the stay, including the reservation of hotels.

Without being able to judge the extent of the problem four months in advance, Laura Sawyer, whose association has more than 5,000 members in 80 countries, expects once again to have to personally intervene with Canadian immigration authorities.

The limits of distance

For meme Sawyer, even if participants who have not obtained a visa will be able to follow the congress remotely, there is a limit to never being able to meet. “The value of a conference is not just in the presentations and panels, but also in the hallway conversations, the social events, the networking,” she says. “It is extremely frustrating when a renowned academic, and who is crucial to a panel, finds himself unable to enter the host country of the conference. »

Attending conferences online can be a solution, but it is however far from ideal, also believes Stéphane Couture.

“Put yourself in the place of these people. If the conference lasts four days in jet lag via Zoom, they will come to two or three meetings, ”drops the professor. He would have liked his colleagues from elsewhere to stay a few days longer than the symposium to visit the city and forge ties. All the richness of informal meetings is reduced to nothing, he laments.

An ironic situation, he continues, when you consider that the federal grant he received is called Connection, and that the goal was “to connect people”. “The dynamic that allows connections will be greatly lost, believes Mr. Couture. African people are going to be structurally disadvantaged. »

For its part, the University of Montreal indicates that Canadian universities have intervened in recent months on this subject, in the same way as for study permits for foreign students.

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