05/03/2012 01:45 EDT | Updated 07/03/2012 05:12 EDT

Visa delays will impact foreign students, schools fear

The federal government's recent decision to stop processing visas at some embassies will impact the number of foreign students coming to Canada to study, according to some schools

Visa services in Canadian embassies in Germany, Japan, Iran, Malaysia and Bangladesh were shuttered earlier this week and applications will now be shipped to other countries for processing.

Applications from Japan, for example, will now be processed in Manila in the Philippines instead.

Brent Poole, the president of the Canadian Association of Public Schools International, says the changes have caught the industry completely by surprise.

"We were blindsided by it," said Poole on Wednesday.

Poole says the closures will turn a two-week wait for visa in those countries into a 13-week wait, and worries many time-pressed students looking for working holiday and student visas may choose to go to other countries instead.

"Teaching English is very competitive. England, the United States and Australia are all trying to attract the same students. Delays in getting people to Canada won't help," he said.

"Fourteen days to get study permit to go to Australia, 13 weeks to go to Canada — that's going to impact on their decision, which is going to impact on our numbers."

Students echo concerns

Poole says foreign students contribute $6.5 billion a year to the Canadian economy, and more than $1.5 billion in B.C. alone, and the delays would impact more than classroom numbers.

Not only will Canada will miss out on that revenue, and the value of being exposed to their culture, many students who study here apply to become citizens and keep on contributing to the country as a whole, Poole says.

"We do have students who decide they like it here and stay, and immigrate to Canada, and it brings a lot of revenue, and every student we lose is lost revenue."

Almost everyone working at Vancouver's Ebi-Ten restaurant is on a working holiday visa from Japan. Yuri Yonesu says a 13-week wait for a visa would have affected his decision to come to Canada.

"You can't just wait for two months, you know, doing nothing," said Yonesu.

Kazuyo Sato agrees many foreign students don't have the time to wait 13 weeks for a visa and will head elsewhere instead.

"If I have no time to prepare, yeah, I would hesitate to come to Canada if I take 13 or more."