A month after it suspended Indian visa services in Canada and asked Ottawa to reduce its diplomatic presence in India following the diplomatic firestorm over Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegation of a potential Indian link to the killing of a Canada-based Khalistan separatist, Delhi moved to reduce tensions between the two countries by restoring visa services in some categories with effect Thursday.
In a statement that signalled the de-escalatory move, the High Commission of India in Ottawa said, “After a considered review of the security situation that takes into account some recent Canadian measures in this regard, it has been decided to resume visa services for the following categories with effect from October 26, 2023: Entry visa, Business visa, Medical visa, and Conference visa.”
While the entry visa is meant for Indian-origin Canadian passport holders, the business visa is for Canadian business travellers and investors in India. These have been restored keeping in view the high demand from Indian-origin Canadian citizens who don’t have OCI cards as well as Canadian investors in India.
The medical visa is mostly used by Indian-origin Canadians for cost-effective emergency medical treatment and the conference visa is for academics and think tanks.
But tourist visas have still not been restored for Canadian citizens. “The visa services have been opened partially, but it has not been normalised,” an Indian government source said.
But this is still perceived as a major de-escalatory move by India, a month after Trudeau’s allegation of a potential link of Indian government links to the killing of Khalistan separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
The official statement said that the High Commission of India in Ottawa and its Consulates General in Toronto and Vancouver were constrained to suspend visa services temporarily because of safety and security considerations.
Sources said while Ottawa has stepped up security for the Indian diplomats, the situation is not yet completely normal. “Emergency situations will continue to be addressed by the High Commission and Consulates General as it is being done currently,” the statement said, adding that further decisions, as appropriate, would be intimated based on continuing evaluation of the situation.
The announcement came three days after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said India is looking at resuming visa services for Canadians “very soon” if it sees progress in the safety of its diplomats in Canada.
Jaishankar said that the primary reason behind India temporarily stopping the visa services was the concern over the safety and security of its diplomats in Canada. Ottawa’s inability to provide a secure environment to Indian officials, he said, challenged the most fundamental aspect of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
His comments last Sunday came after Canada announced that it had pulled out 41 diplomats from India and halted its visa and consular services in Chandigarh, Mumbai and Bengaluru, and that these services would now be available only at the Canadian High Commission in Delhi.
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The Indian move to resume visa services is being seen as a potential “door-opener” though Trudeau and his government have not withdrawn his allegation, dismissed by Delhi as “absurd” and “motivated”.
Delhi cited parity and the Vienna Convention on the downsizing of Canadian diplomatic presence, but that has not found favour with US, UK, Australia and New Zealand — all partners of Canada in the Five Eyes alliance on gathering, pooling intelligence.
Delhi had rejected Canada’s “attempt to portray the implementation of parity as a violation of international norms”, and accused Canadian diplomats of interfering in India’s internal affairs.