Program that speeds up visas for Mexicans traveling to Canada becomes permanent

Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced on May 12, 2014 that there will be policy changes coming that will make it easier for Mexican citizens to travel and visit Canada. The Minister was quoted in saying:

“Our government is opening the door to economic growth while protecting the integrity of Canada’s immigration system. By making the CAN+ program permanent, our government is making it easier and faster for Mexican travelers to come to Canada to do business, visit family or friends, or bolster Canada’s tourism industry. This will further strengthen relations with our valued NAFTA partner and will help foster economic growth in both our countries.”

Chris Alexander, Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister

Under the CAN+ program, Mexican nationals who have travelled to Canada or the United States within the last 10 years will be eligible for expedited visa processing. By fast-tracking a large number of applications, CAN+ is freeing up visa officers to work on other more complex cases. The program intends to improve overall processing times for all Mexican travellers who will see their visas processed in 10 days or less.

The Minister of CIC highlighted how the government wishes to increase legitimate trade and travel to Canada from the region. The success of the Canada’s Multiple-Entry Visa (MEV) program is another example of ways the government is providing fast and convenient options for travellers wishing to visit Canada. In April 2014 alone, more than 95,000 MEVs, which allow visitors to come and go from Canada for six months at a time for up to 10 years, were issued to individuals coming to Canada on vacation or to spend time with family.

Canada seeks to strengthen ties with Mexico, its NAFTA partner:

More than 2 million Canadians visit Mexico each year. Whereas, historically, the number of Mexicans traveling to Canada has been significantly lower. However, that has been changing and Canada’s close tourism ties with Mexico continue to grow with more than 34,000 visitor visas, study and work permits issued to Mexican visitors, students and workers between January and April 2014; a 20 percent increase from the same period in 2013.

The CAN+ program will speed visa processing for an expected 50 percent or more Mexican travellers to Canada.

A six-month pilot of the CAN+ program delivered excellent results: visas were issued in seven days or less with an approval rate of over 95 percent.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada also offers three “Express” programs that help Mexican business people, tourist groups and students come to Canada faster:

1. Business Express expedites business travel from Mexico with visas issued within days with a near-perfect approval rate for those registered in the program.

2. Travel Express offers a fast, simplified visa application process for tourists who use travel agencies registered with the Canadian Embassy.

3. Mexican Student Pilot fast-tracks the processing of study permits with a near-perfect approval rate for those who study at participating Canadian educational institutions.

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Montreal Tops List of Best Cities for International Students

Cultural attractions like the iconic Montreal Museum of Fine Arts helped give Montreal the top spot in the ‘social experience’ sub-index of the Sea Turtle Index

An index commissioned by the Bank of Communications (BoCom), one of the largest banks in China, places Montreal, Canada as the best city in the world for international students.

Other Canadian cities that ranked well include Toronto (4th) and Vancouver (15th).

Created by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) with design input from BoCom management, the Sea Turtle Index (a name referring to Chinese students who study abroad only to return, like sea turtles, to their country of origin) ranks foreign student destinations according to five sub-indices:

  • Educational returns: the international value of the education provided in the city relative to its cost
  • Financial returns: the openness of the investment environment to foreign nationals and the amount of volatility risk that could effect investment returns
  • Real estate returns: the return on investment in the local real estate market
  • Work experience: the local job market for foreign students and graduates in terms of availability of jobs, wages and low-taxes
  • Social experience: the city’s level of culture, worldliness and multi-culturalism

Of the 80 cities included in the index, Montreal came in 6th place in the ‘educational returns’ sub-index, behind only Cambridge (1st), Oxford (2nd), London (3rd), Seoul (4th), and Beijing (5th).

Montreal benefited from having comparatively affordable universities and cost of living while providing high quality tertiary education. Vancouver and Toronto also had their score helped by their low cost of living, although not as much as Montreal which was found to be a more affordable place to live.

None of the American cities included in the study made the top 10 in the educational returns category, despite several being home to some of the best educational institutions in the world. The poor showing was largely due to the high cost of tuition for their undergraduate programs.

Some cities, including Singapore, Hong Kong and New York, saw their educational returns ranking pushed down due to a high cost of living.

The EIU included a ‘financial returns’ sub-index owing to the fact that the parents of international students and often international students themselves like to make investments in the city where the students live.

None of the North American cities included in the study made the top 30 in this sub-index, due in Canada to relatively high taxes and in the United States to excessive “money laundering regulations and terrorism legislation” stifling financial freedom.

Hong Kong placed first in this ranking, followed by Auckland, New Zealand (2nd) and Santiago, Chile (3rd), which benefited from having comparatively few regulations on finance and banking that restrict international capital flows.

Three Canadian cities made the top 30 in the ‘real-estate returns’ sub-index: Toronto (4th), Montreal (12th), and Vancouver (13th), while Hong Kong took the top spot thanks to its hot real estate market.

Canadian cities did well due to a combination of well-performing real-estate markets and avoidance of the boom-busts that affected many other world cities in the period leading up to and following the global mortgage crisis.

Canada’s openness to foreign investment also helped push its cities above those in countries with real-estate markets that have seen substantial gains in recent years but which have more restrictions on foreign property ownership, like Shanghai, Bangkok, Mumbai and Seoul.

Immigration rules benefit Canada

Canadian cities took the top five spots in the work experience sub-index due to immigration laws that allow foreign students, upon completion of their study programs, to obtain post-graduate work permits that are valid for durations equaling the length of their study in Canada.

This contrasts with the U.S. where international students have few options to stay and work in the United States upon completing their studies.

Edmonton’s combination of a hot labour market and low provincial taxes gave it an edge over its Canadian counterparts and earned it the top spot in the ranking, followed by Hamilton (2nd), Toronto (3rd), Vancouver (4th) and Montreal (5th).

Montreal managed to also share the top spot in the ‘social experience’ sub-index with London, England, thanks to its low rates of violent crime, high cultural diversity and its world renowned cultural attractions.

Canada’s high levels of multiculturalism and low crime rates helped three other Canadian cities: Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton, make the top 30 in this ranking.

As incomes in China rapidly grow, parents in the country’s large and education-minded population are increasingly able to afford a foreign university education for their children.

Therefore the good showing of Canadian cities in the Sea Turtle Index, which caters mostly to Chinese students seeking to study abroad, portends well for Canadian efforts to make the country a top destination for international students.

With the federal government having committed itself to making it easier for international students to stay and work in Canada and become permanent residents through programs like the Canadian Experience Class, Canada’s appeal to international students could increase even more in coming years.

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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.

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Nova Scotia Premier to Press for End to Diplomat Strike Citing Visa Delays

Nova Scotia Premier Darrel Dexter says Atlantic Canada is being harmed economically by the strike of foreign service officers (Government of Nova Scotia)

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter says the strike by Canadian foreign service officers is hurting Canadian provinces by delaying the processing of student visas.

International students studying in Canada provide a significant economic boost to communities across the country, including several in Nova Scotia, through the spending money they bring with them.

A report done last year by University of British Columbia President Stephen Toope for the Canadian Council of Chief Executives found that international students contribute $6.5 billion a year to the Canadian economy.

Dexter warned that this could be jeopardized by the foreign service officers strike, as universities in the U.S. will be more appealing to students wishing to study abroad if they are unable to get their Canadian student visas quickly:

“If you’ve got five universities on your radar and two of them are in Canada and three are in the United States and you get your visa into the United States in three days then when you are trying to plan for the future if you have to wait two months before you know if you’re even going to get a student visa it makes it a heck of a lot more likely you are you going to choose one of the three options in the U.S.”

Strike action by the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) is affecting the processing of visa applications in 12 foreign missions, including those in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Jakarta, Bangkok, Washington, Delhi, Chandigarh, Bogota, and Sao Paolo.

The premier says the provinces should urge the federal government to escalate the labour dispute in order to resolve it, which most likely would lead to a court ordered end to the strike.

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Immigration Canada Announces That Over 100,000 International Students Entered Country in 2012

UBC campus in downtown Vancouver. The number of international students entering Canada has increased by 60 percent from 2004, to over 100,000 last year (CICS News)

Canada admitted over 100,000 international students in 2012 according to an announcement by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) on Tuesday. The number marks a 60 percent increase over the number of foreign students hosted by Canada 2004, and demonstrates the growing significance of international education to the country.

CIC promoted the milestone by noting that the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT)’s report on international students in Canada, titled International Education: A Key Driver of Canada’s Future Prosperity, estimates that the annual economic contribution of international students is more than $8 billion.

In another report, commissioned by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and released last summer, the author of the report, University of British Columbia President Stephen Toope, argued that in addition to the direct economic contribution foreign students make to Canada through their spending on tuition, rent and other living expenses, they also benefit the country by creating economic and cultural links between it and other countries.

Toope wrote that those links would enable Canada to conduct more international trade and investment with rapidly growing economies in the future, particularly in Asia where many of the international students originate.

In a statement on Tuesday, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney extolled the trend of an increasing international student population in Canada: “Attracting and retaining the best and brightest immigrants from around the world is part of the government’s commitment to grow Canada’s economy and ensure long-term prosperity.

The steady growth in numbers confirms that Canada remains a destination of choice for international students because of the remarkable educational opportunities that exist in our world class institutions.”

CIC has attempted to make it easier for international students to transition into permanent residence in Canada with new immigration programs like the PhD stream of the Federal Skilled Worker Program, and the Canadian Experience Class, which allows those with one year of work experience in Canada to become permanent residents.

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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.

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B.C. Government Unveils New Website For International Students

Over a dozen English language schools in downtown Vancouver cater to international students. The government of B.C. is seeking to increase the number of foreign students who choose to study in the province (CICS News)

On Monday, the provincial government of British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province, unveiled an updated LearnLiveBC website to promote B.C.’s post-secondary institutions to international students and provide foreign students with information on the educational programs available in the province.

As part of the province’s efforts to build upon its strength as a top destination for international students and promote B.C.’s colleges and universities overseas, the LearnLiveBC website will be made available in several languages, including Korean, Portuguese, Japanese and Chinese, over the course of 2013.

The website includes links to resources like the educationplanner.ca site, which catalogues and allows users to digitally search thousands of programs available in B.C.’s post-secondary institutions.

The B.C. government says that there are currently 100,000 international students in the province, and that it will gain 1,800 jobs and increase its GDP by $100 million for every 10 per cent increase in the number of international students coming to the province.

The creation of the LearnLiveBC website is one part of British Columbia’s International Education Strategy which was unveiled in May 2012.

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Canadian Government Proposes Limiting Student Visas to Attendees of Provincially Recognized Schools

International students in Vancouver, Canada. International students are estimated to contribute nearly $6 billion to the Canadian economy annually (CICS News)

In an effort to stop abuse of the International Student Program by those seeking to work illegally in Canada and stem the growth of a student-visa mill industry that harms the reputation of Canadian educational institutions, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) on Friday proposed to parliament new regulations that would limit student visas to enrollees of institutions recognized by provinces and territories.

In announcing the measures, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney extolled the benefits of international students for Canada and his department’s intention to maintain the high educational standards of Canadian post-secondary institutions.

“Attracting the best and brightest young minds from around the world is key to the continued success of Canada’s economy and long-term prosperity,” said Kenney.

“But there are too many stories of international students who pay a lot of money and leave their families back home to study in Canada, only to find out they have been misled. These changes will help us better protect international students and the reputation of Canada’s post-secondary education system by making sure that international students are coming to quality institutions that comply with basic standards of accountability.”

The proposed rules would require that a student visa holder’s primary intent in Canada is to study, and would grant CIC the authority to request evidence from study visa holders to prove they are complying with this condition and revoke their student visas if they fail to do so.

The proposed rules would enact recommendations of a 2011 review of the International Student Program.

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Nationals of 29 Countries to Require Biometrics to Enter Canada

A new biometric chip containing a cryptographically signed digital encoding of the applicant’s photo and fingerprints will be embedded in the Canadian visas and work permits of nationals of 29 designated countries (Government of Canada)

Starting in January 2013, the federal government will require individuals from selected countries wishing to visit or immigrate to Canada to have their biometric information registered and checked before entering the country.

The new rules will apply to nationals of 29 countries: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Laos, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Vietnam, and Yemen.

Subject nationals applying for a visitor visa, study permit or work permit will need to provide their fingerprints and photograph at the time of application. Foreign nationals who are Canadian permanent residents or citizens will be exempt from the new rules.

The biometric identification requirement is similar to United States Homeland Security’s biometric registration which applies to all visitors to the U.S. Other countries that use biometrics for border security or immigration control include the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia.

Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney on Friday extolled the advantages of the security measure: “Biometrics will strengthen and modernize Canada’s immigration system. Our doors are open to legitimate travellers and, through the use of biometrics, we will also be able to protect the safety and security of Canadians.”

The implementation of the new rules will correspond with the roll-out of the new Canadian ePassport, which will begin being issued on January 1st, 2013, and will include the biometric information of the passport holder.

Federal government officials say that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the federal agencies responsible for administering the new biometric program, will work with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to protect the personal personal information of applicants in accordance with Canada’s Privacy Act.

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Canada Not Viewed As Top Destination for Foreign Students: Foreign Affairs Dept

'Old Vic' at the University of Toronto (U of T). The U of T was one of the few Canadian educational institutions perceived as a world class post-secondary institution by survey participants in China, India and Brazil

A Foreign Affairs department commissioned study completed in March finds that Canada is not seen as a top destination for prospective international students in Brazil, China, and India.

The sobering Ipsos-Reid report says that “Canada is a not top-of-mind destination for foreign study for participants in any of the three countries except with Brazilian participants interested in language studies” and that “there is no awareness that Canada has world-class educational establishments”.

Despite the poor survey results, Canada attracts nearly 100,000 international students every year, who contribute an estimated $6.5 billion annually to the Canadian economy.

There have been several high-profile calls on Canadian post-secondary institutions and governments this year to build on this success and increase Canada’s share of the international education market.

The federal government has heeded the calls and made efforts to promote the Canadian education brand, as reported by the Globe and Mail in an article on Tuesday:

Initiatives designed to forge educational links have been a feature of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s strategy to deepen economic ties with Asia during his trips to China and India this year.

Meanwhile, Governor-General David Johnston travelled to Brazil in the spring with 30 university presidents in tow, one of the biggest delegations abroad to push the benefits of Canadian education.

The Ipsos-Reid study recommends that the federal government improve the “Imagine Education in Canada” campaign, which it promotes internationally.

Specifically, it says the campaign should provide more information on the advantages of Canadian education to foreign students, like the global school ranking of Canadian post-secondary institutions, the top majors offered, and famous/successful people who have attended Canadian universities.

It also recommends advertising the practical advantages of living in Canada, like the high standard of living, good value for money, and the natural beauty of the country.

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