Canada and the UK tackle visa delay

December 8, 2000

David Jobbins and Philip Fine at the Commonwealth education ministers' meeting, Halifax.

A plan to overcome visa problems encountered by some students on overseas work placements has been drawn up by representatives from Canadian and British organisations.

Members of the Canadian Association for Cooperative Education and the UK's Association for Sandwich Education and Training met in Halifax to put together a document they expect to present next month to the two countries' government departments responsible for work permits and visas.

The agreement is expected to simplify the arduous process of obtaining the necessary documentation and avoid entry complications. In the absence of any formal agreements, the authorities in both countries deal with the 12-month work permits on a case-by-case basis. It has also been difficult for universities to set up exchanges with more than one other institution at a time.

The group has formed the Canada-UK Exchange, a consortium that it expects to act as a clearing-house for work placement openings in various parts of both nations. Eight universities - four in each country - have organised the plan in the hope that they can increase student mobility. They would like to see the potential arrangements act as a template for other bilateral agreements.

Under the provisional plan, students will agree not to stay in the host country when their permit or visa expires. Exchanges arranged under the scheme will not normally be for longer than 12 months.

While numbers will not necessarily be equal in any one year, the two associations expect that a balance between incoming and outgoing students will be maintained over the projected five-year term of the agreement.

Ray Robinson, of the University of Ulster - one of the eight that met during the parallel symposium at the Commonwealth education ministers' conference, said: "You'll be able to roll this out for others, instead of having 40 different agreements."

However eager universities are to engage in student exchanges, there are frequent problems with visa restrictions.

In Britain, the initiative announced last year by prime minister Tony Blair to secure more overseas students identified easing visa and work permit processes as a priority area for reform.

Other countries also occasionally present problems. Only four out of a group of 70 Ghanaians who recently applied for visas to study at one Canadian university obtained them, according to Ghana's deputy education minister, Kwabene Kyereh, this week.

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