Striking foreign service workers at Canadian embassies around the world are costing schools and the Canadian economy millions of dollars, university and college officials say.

The University of Windsor and St. Clair College, also in Windsor, say the number of enrolled international students is down this year.

Even though St. Clair College says interest from international students wanting to come to Windsor is at an all-time high, its enrolment of international students will be slashed in nearly half.

"We've never issued more applications, and we've never been more popular," said Peter Bondy, the director of international education at the college.

Bondy said international student applications are up by approximately 10 per cent, overall, and that they're up by 25 per cent from China alone.

However, Bondy said the strike is expected to keep 40 per cent per cent of international applicants out of the college classroom because they won't get a student visa in time.

The college accepts 250 international students each year.

Economic impact

A federal study released in 2009, found that international students contribute more than $6.5 billion to the Canadian economy. 

Meanwhile, the Association of Canadian Community Colleges estimates that international education is worth $8.1 billion to the Canadian economy per year.

"I mean that's real money, that's a lot of money," he said. "Individually, international students contribute $10,000 to the economy — that's beyond tuition."

While Bondy worries for this year, he's more concerned about the future.

"We're damaging the Canadian brand," Bondy said.

Administrators at the University of Windsor agree.

"This will hurt us, and it will take us a year or two to undo it," said Clayton Smith, vice provost of students and international at the University of Windsor.

Smith said Canadian colleges and universities no longer just compete with each other. They must compete against other international institutions as well.

Smith says if students aren't confident they will arrive on time, many will simply go elsewhere.

The University of Windsor typically accepts between 500 and 700 international students each year. They pay a premium to enrol.

Similar numbers elsewhere

Alan Vaughan, the vide president of enrolment management and international education at Conestoga College in Waterloo, estimates 200 incoming students still don't have visas.

'It's been their dream to come to Canada for years.'— Alan Vaughan, Conestoga College

"Many of them, it's been their dream to come to Canada for years. And they've worked hard to come here, and they've done their research, they've applied," said Vaughan.

"It's the final step in their adventure and they're being disappointed by not getting their visa in time to start school."

The federal government and the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, which represents diplomats and immigration officers abroad, have been locked in a contract negotiation for months.

As part of escalating job action being used by the union, diplomats at key visa application centres abroad have scaled back some of their services, including processing visas required for international students studying at Canadian universities and colleges.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada officials said processing times are within a two-month standard, but university administrators in Nova Scotia say some students have already decided to go elsewhere.

Asa Kachan, the registrar for Dalhousie University in Halifax, said at least 200 international students are affected by the backlog in visa processing and that has put the university in limbo as they wait to see who shows up for class this month.

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokesperson Glenn Johnson, the agency is providing training "on an urgent basis" so that more staff can process applications. The agency is also requesting staff work overtime where possible.

"Anyone applying for a visa should submit their application as far in advance as possible," Johnson said in an email to CBC.

To prevent additional delays, Johnson said applicants can also:

  • Submit their temporary visa applications (visitors, students and workers) online.
  • Submit their visa applications, documents and fees to Visa Application Centres

Johnson also said CIC "is working to ensure the timely processing of study permits for international students."   "There has been a six-per-cent increase in the number of student applications compared to last year. And we have issued 12 per cent more student visas than last year," he said. "The approval rate is 79 per cent, which is also above last year’s rate."