Indo-Canadians in B.C. are concerned about their ability to travel to India after the country halted all visa services for Canadian citizens.
It’s the latest escalation in the diplomatic row between the two countries following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement that India may have been involved in the killing of a prominent B.C. Sikh leader.
The suspension of visas “could not come at a worse time,” said Anil Kumar, a mortgage broker who is active with Surrey’s Indo-Canadian community. “People are concerned about travelling to India.”
Kumar has been flooded with calls and messages from Canadians who had already applied for a tourist visa or multiple-entry visa called Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) and are worried that their applications will be denied. Since India doesn’t allow dual citizenship, many Canadians of Indian descent apply for OCIs, a long-term visa that lasts 10 years and isn’t unlike Canada’s permanent residency card for foreign nationals.
“Some people I know, they’re going for the Diwali festival (in November). This is what is hurting me a lot.”
Shobhit, a Surrey resident, said he, his wife and two children were planning a trip to northern India in November so his parents can meet his eight-month-old son and see his three-year-old daughter for the second time. He’s not been back to India since before COVID-19 and now the family’s travel plans are up in the air.
He came to Canada as an international student and recently surrendered his Indian passport when he obtained his Canadian citizenship.
Shobhit didn’t want to share his last name because he feared reprisals when he eventually applies for his OCI.
By signing up you consent to receive the above newsletter from Postmedia Network Inc.
“It’s a stressful situation,” he said.
Paul Gill, owner of Gill International Travel, a travel agency with offices in Surrey, Edmonton and several locations in Ontario, said news of the suspension of Indian visas is “pretty devastating.”
Many Indo-Canadians plan their travel to India between September and April, he said.
“It’s pretty hard on the Indian diaspora who are planning to attend weddings … they have land, they have families, they have parents there,” Gill said.
Some also travel back to India for medical procedures, he said.
Gill is hopeful the heated Indian-Canadian relations will thaw in the coming weeks: “It’s basically a stand-off right now.”
Trudeau told Parliament on Monday there are “credible allegations” of Indian involvement in the assassination of Sikh independence activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who had been wanted by India for years and was gunned down on June 18 outside the temple he led.
Speaking in New York on Thursday, Trudeau dodged questions about whether his government will retaliate by halting visa services for Indians looking to travel to Canada.
The BLS Indian Visa Application Center in Canada, the agency that processes visa requests for India, wrote on its website Thursday: “Important notice from Indian mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21 Sept. Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice.”
In 2021, 80,000 Canadian tourists visited India, making them the fourth largest group, according to India’s Bureau of Immigration. Canada is home to the largest Sikh population outside India and the seventh-largest Indian diaspora.
Balraj Mann, who owns the Vancouver-based BM Group of Companies that has restoration and infrastructure projects in New Delhi, said he and his family have OCIs so they aren’t impacted by the visa suspension.
However, he has business colleagues who will require visas in the coming months to travel for work and their plans are now up in the air.
A spokesperson for Vancouver International Airport said no flights between Vancouver and New Delhi have been cancelled as a result of the visa suspension.
BLS International, a third party company that processes visa applications to India, posted on their website: “Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21 Sept. 2023, Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice. Please keep checking BLS website for further updates.”
Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi confirmed a temporary suspension of all visa services for Canadians, including e-visas and visas issued in third countries.
“Security threats being faced by our High Commission and consulates in Canada have disrupted their normal functioning. Accordingly, they are temporarily unable to process visa applications. We will be reviewing the situation on a regular basis,” Bagchi said.
Canada expelled an Indian diplomat, after which India expelled a Canadian diplomat and reduced its diplomatic staffing in Canada. Canada’s High Commission in India said it would temporarily “adjust” staff presence in the country after some diplomats received threats on social-media platforms.
The Consulate General of India in Vancouver posted a message on its website from the Indian government that warned Indian nationals and students in Canada to “exercise extreme caution and remain vigilant” in the face of “the deteriorating security environment in Canada.”
“In view of growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate crimes and criminal violence in Canada, all Indian nationals there and those contemplating travel are urged to exercise utmost caution,” the message read.
Canada is a top study destination for Indian students, with 300,000 Indian students pursuing higher education here in 2022.
— With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press
You can also support our journalism by becoming a digital subscriber: For just $14 a month, you can get unlimited, ad-lite get unlimited, ad-lite access to The Vancouver Sun, The Province, National Post and 13 other Canadian news sites. Support us by subscribing today: The Vancouver Sun | The Province.