Dozens lined up outside an Indian visa centre in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday morning as India began accepting some visa applications for the first time in more than a month.
One local travel agent says he expects the rush to continue for at least several days as Canadian citizens apply to travel to India to visit family and attend events such as weddings and funerals.
On Sept. 21, the High Commission of India in Ottawa announced it and its consulates-general in Vancouver and Toronto would stop accepting most visa applications from Canadian citizens due to “safety and security considerations.”
The announcement came amid deteriorating diplomatic relations between Canada and India, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged India may have been involved in the killing of a pro-Khalistan Sikh activist in Surrey. India has denied the allegation.
On Wednesday, India’s High Commission said it would resume visa applications for those wishing to enter for business, conferences and medical reasons, as well as entry visas for people of Indian origin who don’t or no longer hold Indian citizenship.
Tourist visas remain suspended, it said in a statement.
“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,” said a statement from the High Commission.
“Emergency situations will continue to be addressed by the High Commission and the Consulates General as it is being done currently.”
Canada’s Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan, who represents the Vancouver South riding, welcomed the change, calling it “good news” for Canadians needing to travel to India.
The announcement is a relief for many trying to see family for the first time in years, said Jatinder Dadrao, owner of Let’s Go Travel and Tours in Surrey.
He says his phone has been blowing up with WhatsApp messages from people asking how they can apply for a visa to go to India.
“This sudden announcement by the Indian government, it’s really good, good news for everyone, especially for Canadian passport holders,” Dadrao told Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC’s On The Coast on Wednesday.
But he stressed that not everyone is eligible for a visa, and applicants need to ensure they have the proper documentation, including certification that they surrendered their Indian passport if and when they became Canadian citizens.
India forbids its citizens from holding other passports.
The delay has left some new Canadians worried about missing important family moments.
Sugeet Sini says he and his family waited more than four hours in the cold outside BLS International Indian Visa & Passport Application Centre in Surrey on Thursday morning, arriving at 5:30 a.m., two-and-a-half hours before it opened.
Sini is traveling to India at the end of November for a family commitment, but needed a visa for the first time because he became a Canadian citizen on Sept. 14.
That required him to surrender his Indian citizenship and passport, and he couldn’t get his application in before visa services were suspended.
“It takes around four weeks, and we need it by Nov. 28, so we have to keep our fingers crossed,” he told CBC News on Thursday.
Sini said the diplomatic rift has proven frustrating.
“It’s kind of a pain for the people,” said Sini. “But it’s all about politics and stuff.”