Back to school plans are coming together, but some student visas are not being processed fast enough for many international students planning to further their studies in Prince George.
Some students from other countries were scheduled to arrive in Prince George to live and go to school starting this week but their plans have either been delayed or cancelled.
A federal government labour dispute is delaying the efforts of the international students coming for university, college or the various local grade schools as Canadian workers at home and around the world who process international visas are cutting back on their duties.
UNBC's associate registrar Pam Flagel said the incoming undergraduate students almost all got here in time. She speculated that the application deadline of March 1 probably played a role in UNBC's favour because the applicants were processed before the labour dispute took hold.
"We may see more of an impact for students that have been admitted to the January semester, but we havent had any evidence of this as of yet," Flagel said.
On the graduate side of UNBC's student body, however, Flagel said things were different. "We have had some inquiries from students that have been accepted to graduate programs in the fall. Some students are requesting that their admissions be deferred to another semester, and in other cases we are working with the academic programs to see if students can start their program a few weeks later than normal."
She added that the international recruitment agents who work with UNBC "have expressed concern that in the long term Canadas brand may be impacted, and students might choose to apply to study in other countries."
This runs counter to the campaigns launched by the region's training institutions and municipalities to attract foreign students. Doing so brings new investment into the local economy and demystifies the region in foreign lands that might become stronger trading partners.
School District 57 got almost all its incoming students through the backlog in time. Superintendent Brian Pepper said the slowdown had "minimal impact" on their international enrolement but it was not a perfect score.
"We have had one or two students who have not been able to get a visa, therefore are unable to attend here," he said. "In terms of overall numbers we have five fee-paying international students and approximately 40 exchange students."
Sheila Hoeg, a veteran Prince George representative for Shecana International Schools, a private agency that co-ordinates both Canadian youth wishing to travel abroad and foreign students wishing to experience study terms in Canada, said other agents are in the frustrating position of having to refer some Canada-interested students to other countries because the paperwork can't be done in time.
"We were lucky," she said. "About two weeks ago we had close to 40 students from many different countries that did not have their visa's yet. However Jeanne [Clough, caseworker] at Dick Harris's office [MP for Cariboo-Prince George] has been amazing and helped us with the process. Our students are arriving this weekend. We now only have four from Germany that were not able to make the flights. We hope that they will still be able to come."