Thursday, 22 November 2007

Student Working Holiday Visas and the WWB in Canada and the UK

"A fine idea until the governments got involved" might be a good way to summarize how this looks at first contact. The working holiday programme is a series of agreements amongst a number of countries, including Canada, the UK, the USA, New Zealand and others to encourage short-term and temporary visits by students and young people from 18 to about 30 with the permission to work while travelling.

The exercise of finding the information for a family member has unfortunately revealed the usual confusing and frustrating way that governments operate, despite all the ballyhoo in recent years about seamless, joined up government. Here are the ins and outs as I have discovered them.

Working in the UK
The non-government UK Student Life website has useful general information and points to the official UK government Border and Immigration Agency page on Working in the UK which states that an applicant should use form VAF1 (actually it is written as VAFI). Oops, Wrong! After considerable poking around, scratching my head and following other links I eventually found the truth as revealed in Working Holidays INF15 on the official UK Visas website that it is Employment Form VAF2 one must use. Want to know how much the visa costs? Too bad the FAQ includes everything except this obvious important fact. Oh, and don't bother phoning the general enquiries telephone number listed on this page - you will get a recorded message that live answering has been suspended due to lack of funds till January. No kidding, the government has no staff to answer questions by the public. More searching .... Does the UK Visas list of fees for the various types of visas page include the Working Holiday Visa? You guessed it, nope! I eventually found the British High Commission in Canada page of fees as converted to Canadian dollars showing a price of $420 for the Working Holiday Visa. First, why are they using an exchange rate of $2.10 when it is now around $2.03 and was as low as $1.90 within the last month. Second, isn't this a large amount, a punitive rate for students when the part-time restaurant and retail jobs they are likely to find only pay minimum wage rates of maybe £7/hr. The visa thus costs about two weeks worth of gross wages. Talk about an incentive to visit and work. It's probably more an incentive to come as a non-visa visitor and work illegally.

The Canadian Federation of Students has sponsored an organization called SWAP to arrange working holiday trips by Canadians students abroad, as well as foreigners to Canada.

Working in Canada
The Canadian government's Citizenship and Immigration website page on Working Holidays has general information on the program, as well as a link to the UK program within it. The UK program has four options, the operations for two of which have been outsourced to BUNAC (British Universities North America Club). Does the Citizenship website FAQ or the Fees link say what the visa fee is for the Working Holiday visa? You guessed it - no.

On to BUNAC. BUNAC requires students to sign up for a bundled service which includes the visa application process. I phoned BUNAC and reached a human being very quickly, who told me that up to now there has been no fee charged by the Canadian government for the visa, a fact not stated on the above government website. The BUNAC person also told me the Canadian government has advised them that there would be a visa fee in 2008 but they had not yet been told and would only learn it in early December. That's rather interesting since the processing time for applications is said to be approximately 4-6 weeks. I decided to phone the High Commission of Canada in London visa service to see if I could get the information. The telephone number at first seemed to want to lead me only to recorded messages and not have any options for speaking to a real person but luckily, (or unluckily, given what I was told by the real person), when I dialed 0 a live lady answered. She professed to know nothing about the working visa cost, referring me to BUNAC. When pressed about the fact that the visa and its cost is after all, a Canadian government decision exclusively, she seemed peeved that I should even expect to obtain this information from the High Commission and refused to provide me with any other Canadian government contacts who might elucidate the matter. So much for help from the Canadian government about its own requirements. The cost of the 2008 visa thus remains a mystery. I've sent an email to the Canadian Hogh Commission to try finding out and will post any results.

... Later in the day ... I phoned the official Citizenship and Immigration Call Centre and spoke to an agent who: a) denied that a visa is required at all to enter Canada on a Working Holiday basis; b) that only a work permit, costing $150, is required, just like any other worker; c) the website is NOT an official government of Canada website because it does not use the domain name, despite all the links to official websites, seemingly official-looking downloadable forms, use of both the Citizenship and Immigration logo and the Government of Canada word with the flag logo, a statement that the website is that of the Immigration Section of the Canadian High Commission London, a whole raft of carefully prepared, grammatical, organized, fully-translated into French information and, most of all a direct link from the official Foreign Affairs Canada Canadian High Commission London website Yet there seems to be no link to this website from the Citizenship and Immigration's Do a search on working holiday on this latter website and there are zero hits. Sigh!

All this trouble on one simple question, the cost of the visa in each country. Never mind all the rigmarole and documentation required (I love the UK form which requires you to fess up if you are a war criminal or a terrorist). Welcome to the WWB (World Wide Bureaucracy), students. You are better off using one of the student placement services to keep your sanity in my humble view.


Ryan said...

I have actually taken part in the SWAP program mentioned in your article, and I have to say that the experience far surpassed any cost of the visa. The intention of a working holiday visa is to allow a traveller to finance an extended holiday in a foreign country by working short periods of time. I participated in SWAP-New Zealand, and worked a total of four jobs each for the three months or less permitted by the visa. This took care of all of my living expenses, and funded some pretty amazing trips at the same time.
The jobs that are available are at the same level as you would expect in Canada; if you have graduated university, you can get some fairly well-paying temp jobs.
I can't vouch for other programs, but SWAP was worth the cost, and my year in New Zealand was one of the best of my life! (

Monty Loree said...

I want to thank your for participating in the upcoming Canadian Tour of Personal Finance blogs.

I changed the date to Tuesday November 27, as I forgot that everyone will be watching the Grey Cup. :)

The other participants and details are listed here:

Please do a little promotion for the tour to let your readers know that this event is happening..


Monty Loree

Monty Loree said...

Canadian Tour of Personal Finance partipants.

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