Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
THE STRIKE action by Canada's Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) is taking a toll on Jamaican visa applicants who have been forced to wait up to three months for their applications to be processed.
The average time for an application to be processed is 20 working days. However, PAFSO union members responsible for processing visa applications, have been walking out of offices in Canada and overseas without advanced notice, the Canadian High Commission in Kingston has confirmed.
The strike action started in June.
The commission was responding to complaints by the Jamaica Association of Travel Agents (JATA), which said the locally based consular office treats their queries with little or no regard.
"When an email is sent to enquire the status of the applications, we receive an auto response, and then nothing after," lamented JATA president, Pamela Fenton-Reese, adding that travel agencies have lost business because, "no visa; no ticket sale".
She argued that there is absolutely "no communication" from the Canadian High Commission to the public explaining why this is happening, causing customers whose applications her members have completed, to come in demanding a refund of the service fee.
"Some agencies have reported that customers who have been waiting for months, come into their offices and get angry and abusive to the agents," Fenton-Reese stated, adding they had written to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade seeking its intervention.
With no clear indication when the strike action is likely to end, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has advised that applicants should submit their application as far in advance as possible.
According to the CIC, "priority will be placed on urgent humanitarian applications".
In the meantime, the Canadian High Commission's Counsellor, Alistair Wallbaum said there are now two convenient channels to submit an application: online through an eApplication and ePay, and in person, through the Visa Application Centre in Kingston or Montego Bay.
According to Wallbaum, the eApplication system has been in effect since December 2012, and many Jamaicans have taken advantage of this service, in particular those who require their passport for work or immediate travel.