Canada's Work Visa Fiasco is Bad for Young Unemployed Britons [BLOG]

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By David Stitt | March 23, 2013 3:14 AM EST

Throughout 2013 the Canadian authorities have lurched from one problem to another with their new system for allocating working visas, known as IEC (International Experience Canada) work permits.

The online system, which was supposed to have made the process of applying for the IEC easier and more efficient, had a release date for UK working visas of 1 February. What has transpired has been a series of disappointments for thousands of british citizens and hundreds of wasted hours.

The first disappointment was that on 1 February, visitors to the website were greeted with a "stay tuned" notice. After days of waiting it was announced that visas for the UK would be released in three tranches on 14 February, 25 February and 7 March.

Just 1,000 visas were available to be issued on a first-come, first-served basis on the first date; thousands of British applicants checked the official IEC website every few minutes.

The most eager would have been refreshing the page regularly from midnight GMT but to their frustration, the eventual time of release was 17 hours later - at 5pm GMT (the Canadian authorities had decided to release at 9am PST but did not make this clear when publicising details for UK applicants).

When applicants finally got into the site, it could not keep up with demand and functioned sporadically. The first-come, first-served basis no longer applied and instead a lottery ensued.

Eventually all 1,000 visas were released and thousands if applicants were left disappointed and frustrated though still hopeful they would succeed with one of the next two batches.

Those two dates were just as infuriating with the website frequently crashing because of demand. Some of those applicants who were not lucky enough to be one of the 5,350 people to get visa, could have spent up to three days trying for one.

Economic impact of working holiday visas

The failure of a public IT project is so commonplace it's unlikely to make the news but the biggest failure of the Canadian system was the miserable number of visas available and the negative economic and social ramifications this creates. It is clear that in the short term Canada would benefit from a flexible, enthusiastic and well-educated workforce who would bring money into the economy.

While the short-term impact for the UK is minimal (maybe saving a few unemployment benefits), I have seen huge long-term benefits first-hand. Firstly, the UK has almost one million unemployed 16-24-year-olds, who need training and experience to get them into the workplace. Without this new influx the rest of the work force is more likely to stagnate. Working abroad provides inspiration for further training and it is these people who bring exciting new ideas back to the UK.

I would conservatively estimate that each working visa would create eight additional tourist trips to Canada, as those people return to the UK as ambassadors for the destination (encouraging their friends and families to visit) and revisiting several times themselves.

It is something that governments of Australia and New Zealand must already have studied as they allow an unlimited number of people from the UK between the ages of 18  and 30 to enter for a year (Australia) or 23 months (NZ). These governments have also invested in website technology, making it simple to apply for an Australian working holiday visa with the result known within a few days. I have seen application results in just a few hours.

Either the policymakers and administrators of Canada's IEC are myopic and incompetent or they are in possession of studies that show something different to my own experience. Either way, what I am sure of is that a large proportion of the many thousands who are disappointed will find their way to Australia and New Zealand instead.

Although it is a sad inevitability that many others will abandon their dream after their experience with the Canadian system.

David Stitt is managing director of travel company gap360.com and has 30 years' experience working in the travel industry in the UK and the US

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