The last time Rohit visited his parents, both in their 70s, in Mumbai, India, was in December 2019.
A global pandemic and nearly four years later, the Toronto resident is excited about his upcoming trip this year. He has booked tickets for his entire family, which includes his wife and daughter, and is sure of his travel plans, till Thursday morning.
Diplomatic tensions between Ottawa and New Delhi reached new highs on Thursday after India suspended visa services to Canada. The news was first shared as a notice on the BLS Indian Visa Application Center website. BLS is the agency that processes visa requests for India.
“Important notice from Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21 Sept. Indian visa services are suspended till further notice,” it said.
For Rohit, who Global News is referring to only by his first name because of concerns that sharing his concerns could affect his application for travel documents, it means he may not see his elderly parents in this year.
“It came out of the blue,” he said. “It totally surprised me.”
BLS processes many types of Indian visas, including visitor visas and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards, for Canadians. Visitor visas are required for people who do not have an Indian passport to travel to India. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs describes the OCI Card as a “multiple entry life-long multi-purpose visa that allows the holder to travel and stay in India, whenever he chooses to do so.”
Diplomatic fallout between Canada and India
It is the latest diplomatic tension between India and Canada since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rose in the House of Commons on Monday and announced there was “credible” evidence of “potential links” between government agents of India and the killing of BC Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June.
Manan Gupta, an immigration consultant at Skylake Immigration in Brampton, said the latest round of tensions between the two governments is not sitting well with the Indian diaspora in Canada.
“It causes a lot of additional disruption and discomfort,” he said.
Many Canadian citizens still have close family members living in India. “This is going to hit a lot of people close to home,” Gupta said. “It will affect ordinary people.”
Radhika Ichhpuniani, an immigration consultant with Moncton, NB-based Homeport Immigration, said it was unclear if this restriction only applied to visitor and spouse visas, or if it also extended to OCI cards.
Ichhpuniani said he hopes people will call the Indian high commission to get some clarity.
“Many Canadian citizens (of Indian origin) already have OCI cards, so their travel plans are unlikely to be affected. But if the visa suspensions extend to OCI cards, it means that the new OCI cards may not be processed for some time.
There are no travel restrictions for anyone with an Indian passport, which includes permanent residents, work permit holders and international students in Canada.
Canada has accused India of involvement in the death of Canadian Sikh activist
While Trudeau has sought to cool tensions by saying Canada does not intend to “provoke” India, some immigration consultants worry it could turn into a diplomatic tit-for-tat.
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“If Canada reacts in the same way as India [on visas]the impact will be exponential,” Ichhpuniani said.
Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann said, “Right now, every minute of every day, there’s an Indian national here with a study permit, a visitor permit or a work permit that’s expiring and they have to submit of application.”
Mamann said Indian nationals may not have their work permits extended, or may have to quit their jobs in Canada, take their children out of school and return to India.
“That’s the anxiety they feel now. And someone needs to come to the camera and say, listen, everything is normal.”
Diplomatic fallout between Canada and India
Canada is currently home to approximately 800,000 international students, the majority of whom originate from India.
“International students made up the majority (67 percent) of graduates from the college’s postgraduate programs in 2019, with Indian students making up more than half (53 percent) of the graduates,” the report said Statistics Canada.
Since Trudeau’s shock announcement in the House of Commons on Monday, Gupta said she has been fielding regular phone calls from Indian parents.
“I get frantic calls from parents in India. Some of them have children studying in Canada, others are about to send their children here,” he said. “They are all asking me if they should send their children to Canada after the latest round of tensions.”
Ichhpuniani said that while there may be a decline in interest in Canada as a destination for immigration and education in the short term, many are likely to take the long view and hope that the storm will pass.
In the long term, he expects immigration problems to stabilize.
“It’s too material and revenue-based for any government to play with that,” he said.
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