December 4, 2023

Business Visa

The Business Visa Is Mightier Than Sword

india canada: Travelers in limbo after India halts visas in Canada in escalating dispute

Canadian tourists, business travelers and even some former Indian citizens are rushing to change flights and inquire about their trip deposits after India abruptly suspended visa applications in the country amid an escalating diplomatic row.

A day after the Indian government warned its citizens in Canada to “exercise utmost caution” and hinted that their safety is threatened, BLS International — an agency that processes visa requests in Canada — posted an online notice saying services have been “suspended until further notice.”

“This shouldn’t happen for the innocent people,” said Jothy Ilangovan, standing in line outside the BLS office in Toronto. She was there to help her brother, a Canadian citizen who has lived in the country for 33 years, obtain a visa for a Hindu pilgrimage back to India. He had already booked his vacation time from work and feared the trip would be canceled. “We want to go to the temple and pray, that’s it.”

Ties between Canada and India are at their lowest point in decades after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Indian government of orchestrating the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian activist who was pushing for an independent Sikh homeland in the Punjab region.

India has denied the allegation, calling it “absurd” and hitting back with measures aimed at curbing travel between two nations.

We’re on WhatsApp! Join the ET NRI Channel here

Montreal-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., which now operates under the brand name of AtkinsRéalis, has limited travel to India for Canadian employees to “essential reasons only” until further notice, the firm’s spokesperson, Laurence Myre Leroux, said in an email. There hasn’t been any impact on operations so far, she added, but the situation is being monitored “closely.”

India’s move means most Canadians won’t be able to travel there if they don’t already have a visa. Travel agents said e-visa applications online were also not being processed for Canadians. And while Canadians who previously held Indian passports are eligible for Overseas Citizen of India cards — which allow visa-free entry — many do not hold them.

“This is going to impact Canada, and its trade and economy, where India has played a big role,” said Unnati Oza, a Toronto-based travel agent. “I used to work with a client who used to go there twice a year for business — to Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai. Where are Canadians going to go after this?”It’s not just business travel. The visa suspension is also hitting leisure travelers: Canadians made 280,000 tourist arrivals in India last year, according to Indian government data, making it the No. 5 source of such visitors.

“I already have four or five people calling me this morning. They’re due to go in October and November for eight to 10 days of sightseeing. Now, they’re worried because the tours are non-refundable,” said Ottawa-based travel agent Lalit Sharma, who specializes in India. “If they don’t have the visas, they can’t go.”

At the BLS office in Toronto, a sign told visitors that visa services were suspended for “operational reasons.” Most of the people in line on Thursday morning were there to renew their Indian passports, but others were trying to get advice on the visa suspension.

Mithun Ganguly’s prospects were better, having come to the BLS office to renew his passport. A recent arrival to Canada, he said he doesn’t feel unsafe in the country, regardless of the current Indian advisory.

“Canada is a nice country to stay in, as well as India, so I think we should talk,” he said. “The tensions are not good for either of the countries.”

–With assistance from Mathieu Dion and Stephanie Hughes.

We’re on WhatsApp! Join the ET NRI Channel here