Canadian Foreign Service Workers Union Offers Binding Arbitration

Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who is responsible for protecting Canadians from a growing federal debt burden and tax load, has until Tuesday to accept PAFSO’s offer to enter into binding arbitration to end the pay dispute (Government of Canada)

The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) has offered to enter into binding arbitration with the federal government to end the strike of its members and with it, the disruption to permanent residency and visa issuance.

PAFSO is giving the government until Tuesday to accept the offer before it is rescinded. Treasury Board President Tony Clement must decide whether to accept the deal, which would give a third party arbitrator final say as to what the new compensation scheme for Canada’s foreign services will be, or stick with the government’s current proposal.

The strike is delaying the processing of visa applications, which has elicited warnings from various groups, including the Tourism Industry Association of Canada and Nova Scotia’s premier, that the continuation of the strike will cost the Canadian economy by reducing the number of tourists and international students that land in Canada.

The federal government is aware of the damage the strike is doing but says the offer it has already proposed is fair because foreign service officers receive a special foreign allowance that makes up for their salaries being lower than that of other public servants.

The government also says that foreign service jobs are highly sought after in Canada which indicates the compensation offered is sufficient.

PAFSO has responded that the foreign allowance is not a special benefit to foreign service officers, as all Canadian public servants working overseas receive it, regardless of their division.

This, according to the foreign service officers union, makes the government’s proposed compensation scheme, which would give a foreign service officer on the level-2 pay scale at the maximum experience-grade $87,000 per year, unfair, as it would still be $11,000 less than what a comparatively experienced public servant in the commerce division would receive.

The government has been reluctant to increase its offer however, saying that the PAFSO strike is an attempt to ‘blackmail’ Canada by withholding a vital service.

Clement has said that a more generous offer would be unfair to Canadians who would have to foot the bill, a suggestion that the government believes the compensation offered is adequate for attracting qualified individuals to fill the foreign service positions.

Canadians Foreign Service Officers Picket in Front of PM Office

Members of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) picketed in front of the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday (GOOGLE MAPS)

Canadian diplomatic staff belonging to the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO), a union for foreign service officers employed with the Canadian government, held a picket outside the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday to draw attention to their strike.

The dispute is over claims by PAFSO that foreign service officers receive less pay than public servants in similar position in other departments of the federal government.

For example, a foreign service officer on the level-2 pay scale starts out making $65,304 per year, which can increase to up to $82,630 with experience. The Treasury Board has offered to raise the maximum pay for foreign services on the level-2 pay scale to about $87,000. PAFSO says this is still not enough, as it is about $11,000 less than comparatively experienced employees at the same level in the commerce division.

The federal government says that positions in Canada’s foreign service are highly sought after, and earn benefits not available to other public servants, like partial reimbursement for dry cleaning, a vehicle, and an incentive allowance for working outside the country.

PAFSO members say these overseas benefits are available to all federal public servants that work overseas, including those working in federal departments which have employees that receive higher salaries than comparable foreign service officers, so don’t compensate for the pay deficiency of foreign service officers relative to other federal employees.

Strike action by PAFSO is affecting services at Canadian missions in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Jakarta, Bangkok, Washington, Delhi, Chandigarh, Bogota, and Sao Paolo.

There is concern that delays in processing visas as a result of the strike will hurt Canada’s tourism industry

Canada Among Most Welcoming Countries to Foreign Visitors

Tourists visiting Stanley Park, one of Canada’s most popular tourist spots. Canada was found to be the 12th most welcoming country in the world to foreign visitors in a World Economic Forum study on the global Travel and Tourism industry (Rachel K. So)

A new travel and tourism study from the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranks Canada as one of the most welcoming countries to foreign visitors, ahead of the United States and most European countries.

The rankings, revealed by Max Fisher in a Washington Post story, can be found in a 400-plus page WEF analysis on national tourism sectors around the world.

According to the WEF’s Executive Opinion Survey, the most welcoming country in the world to foreign visitors is Iceland, followed by New Zealand. Canada is 12th out of the 140 jurisdictions included in the survey.

Among the countries most welcoming to foreign visitors, many are island-nations, have small populations, and are not heavily militarized.

Canada, with its modest 35 million population, small military, lack of significant foreign threats, and long shoreline, shares many of these characteristics.

Visitors and Students to Canada From India Booming According to Immigration Department

The Canadian High Commission in Chandigarh. The visa office has seen rapid growth in the number of study permits and visitor visas issued to Indian nationals in the region (GOOGLE MAPS)

The number of visitor visas the Canadian government issues in India’s Punjab region has increased by 300 percent from 2005 levels according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).

CIC says that approximately 17,608 visitor visas were issued in 2012 by its Chandigarh office, which serves the Punjab region.

The growth in the number of Indian visitors to Canada has corresponded with the rapid growth of India’s economy and the emergence of an increasingly sizeable Indian middle class with the disposable income to travel abroad.

The number of student visas issued has seen an even more dramatic increase. According to CIC, 5,200 student permits were issued by the Chandigarh office in 2012, a more than 3000 percent increase from the 173 issued by the office in 2004 when it first opened.

At Friday’s press conference, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney lauded his department’s achievements in reducing processing times for visitor visas for Indian visitors, from 12-days for 80 percent of cases in 2011, to 5-days in 2012 for the same portion of cases.

He also celebrated an 80 percent approval rate for applications it received through the office for its new Parent and Grandparent Super Visa, which CIC introduced in December 2011 as a replacement for the parent and grand-parent sponsorship stream of the Family Class permanent residence immigration program.

The Super Visa grants parents and grand-parents of Canadian citizens and permanent residents permission to stay in Canada for up to ten years without the need to apply for extensions to their visa.

Canadian Visa Office in Buffalo to Close

The Canadian consulate in Buffalo, which handles visa applications for international students, temporary workers and visitors in Canada, and permanent resident applications for residents and citizens of the US, will be closing.

The Canadian consulate in Buffalo is one of Canada's oldest and largest diplomatic offices in the US. It is being closed due to budget cuts and its services are being transferred to other offices in the US and Canada. (City of Buffalo)

About 75 consulate staff will be relocated to the Canadian consulate in New York, and many of the visa processing services will be transferred to CIC offices in Canada, eliminating the need for non-Canadians residing or staying in Canada to travel to Buffalo for interviews required for Canadian visa extensions and renewals.

Many visas are also having online application processes being made available for them, reducing the need for a physical office in a jurisdiction to provide visa services for those in the region.