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Canada visa backlog now critical

Canada visa backlog now critical

- by Sarah Cornwell

Delays in issuing Canadian visas are making South African travel agents think twice before accepting bookings to Canada.

Travel agents and visa specialist companies are now warning South African passport holders that travel to Canada can’t be guaranteed due to visa waiting times having developed into a serious trouble spot. Trips are having to be being cancelled willy-nilly, leaving agents and clients out of pocket.

Long wait times for tourist visas, as long as 147 days (almost five months), and longer in some cases, have plagued consumers and their agents since 2022, and trade partners are in agreement that the wait times put new bookings at risk. But frustrated applicants and agents are also reporting that even these ‘official’ wait times are not reliable and can suddenly, inexplicably, develop into wait times of over five months.

In January, the Canadian High Commissioner in South Africa told Travel News that additional funding, to the tune of CAD85m (R1,1bn), had been channelled into the Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) department to deal with the problem, and that more staff were being trained. The process has also been digitised, but this only seems to frustrate applicants who deal with system-generated updates, and who may only correspond with the visa office by filling in webforms, to receive system-generated answers.

Canada’s visa system simply doesn’t seem able to cope with the high volume of new visa applications post-COVID-19, despite the cash and resource injection. 

And travellers have no recourse – they have to just wait.

Agents have taken to Open Jaw by Travelinfo to vent their frustration. One agent said their client went for biometrics in Cape Town on June 15, 2022, yet (eight months later) the application shows the visa office is still busy checking, but the office does not need any additional information.

By contrast, another agent said her client had had to wait for less than a month.

Bronwyn Davey, Visas Unlimited GM, said last week that processing times were still fluctuating, between 125 and 135 days, which is approximately 4,5 months. 

Meanwhile, visa processing times for destinations such as the UK and US, which also experienced radical delays after COVID-19 restrictions lifted, have bounced back to normal, or close to normal. Davy confirmed that, as of the end of January, US and UK visa services appeared to be functioning absolutely fine.

A press release issued by Canadian authorities in August 2022 acknowledged the problem and explained that visa applications needed different amounts of time to process because each one was different (as are visa applications to any country – Ed.) 

Lynette Machiri, Flight Centre Travel Group SA’s Customer Experience Team Leader, told Travel News that FCTG was monitoring the situation. She said Flight Centre front-end staff had been made aware of the issue and had been instructed to keep customers informed due to duty-of-care obligations, even in cases where the agent was not assisting with the actual visa application. 

Apply six months before!

Sure Maritime Travel in the Eastern Cape is advising its customers to apply for visas six months in advance. Senior Consultant Connie Maleiba confirmed: “My client has been waiting for more than four months now.  A certain visa company has a client that got an answer after waiting for six months! It is a definite deterrent for leisure clients. My corporate has had to cancel his business trip entirely,” she said.