India resuming some visa services for Canadians, at consulates and abroad

OTTAWA — India's high commission in Canada said on Wednesday that the country's officials will resume processing some types of visa applications for Canadians applying from across the country as well as abroad.

The decision came a month after New Delhi suspended the services in Canada and for Canadian citizens worldwide.

The high commission said it is resuming business, medical and conference visas, as well as entry for people with family ties in India, beginning on Thursday.

Restrictions seem to remain in place when it comes to visas for tourists, students, journalists and missionaries.

"Further decisions, as appropriate, would be intimated based on continuing evaluation of the situation," reads a press release from the high commission, which confirmed that the changes apply to missions in Canada as well as to Canadians abroad who are applying at Indian missions in third countries.

The resumption of what India calls an entry visa, which is restricted to "persons of Indian origin," or spouses or children of such persons or of Indian citizens, follows uproar online from Canadians who have been unable to visit their relatives during the country's wedding season.

India introduced the restrictions on visas last month after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in the House of Commons that Canada's intelligence services were probing "credible" information about "a potential link" between India's government and the killing of a Canadian Sikh leader in British Columbia.

India stopped issuing visas in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver on Sept. 21, and eventually stopped serving Canadian citizens in other parts of the world, too.

New Delhi argued the reason for the move was that its diplomats in Canada could not safely get to work.

That was despite High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma saying in an interview with The Canadian Press three weeks earlier that he was "very satisfied" with Canada for ramping up protections.

The diplomatic mission said it chose to resume processing some visa services starting on Thursday "after a considered review of the security situation that takes into account some recent Canadian measures in this regard."

On Wednesday afternoon, Immigration Minister Marc Miller called the move "a good sign" after "an anxious time" for his many Canadians.

"Our feeling is that a suspension should never have happened in the first place," he added.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan said the resumption of visa processing is good news, but wouldn't speculate on what message New Delhi is trying to send.

"It's good to see that they have resumed that. It would have been nice (if) they didn't take it in the first place," Sajjan told reporters.

He added that Ottawa is still seeking India's help as police investigate the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

"There was a Canadian that's killed on Canadian soil, and we've been asking for greater co-operation with the investigation," Sajjan said.

In a statement, the Canada-India Business Council said it was "a promising development" for trade.

"It is also a positive sign that both governments have expressed their support for bilateral business and investments amidst these unusual times," wrote council head Victor Thomas.

Before Trudeau's announcement dramatically heightened tensions between Canada and India, New Delhi had publicly denounced protests by Sikh separatist groups outside its diplomatic missions in Canada, as well as posters that appeared to offer cash rewards in exchange for the home addresses of Indian diplomats.

India formally called on Canada to better uphold its duty to protect foreign diplomats.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said on Sept. 14 that Indian diplomats in Canada "have 24/7 security," which is a service Ottawa offers to very few diplomatic missions.

India's foreign affairs minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, said on the weekend that his country was looking at relaxing the visa restrictions.

"We stopped issuing visas in Canada because it was no longer safe for our diplomats to go to work to issue visas," he said on Sunday.

Jaishankar also said he took issue with the federal Liberals, in comments that analysts said marked the first time that New Delhi had framed its concerns with Canada along political lines.

"The problems we have are with a certain segment of Canadian politics, and the policies which flow from that," Jaishankar said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2023.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press