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Tourists caught in India-Canada visa row

Published : Friday, 22 September, 2023 at 7:40 PM  Count : 551

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with high school students in Manitoba. Reuters

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with high school students in Manitoba. Reuters

The phone line at a Vancouver-based tourism company has been ringing non-stop since India announced that it will be suspending visa services for Canadian citizens.

Those who are planning to travel in the coming months are worried about what the ban means for them, said Radhika Sharma, who works at Explore India, which organises tours to the country, reports BBC.
Ms Sharma said travellers with a visa in hand should be fine "but people who have not yet applied, we're not sure if they are going to get it or not".

Travel issues for tourists are among many concerns that have arisen after India's announcement on Thursday, when it said it was suspended visa processing for Canadian citizens citing safety concerns for its staff.

The move followed a public accusation by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that India may have been behind the murder of a Sikh separatist on Canadian soil. India has called the allegation "absurd".

Canada is among the top five source countries of foreign visitors to India according to tourism data, with more than 80,000 Canadians travelling there in 2021.

For many of Canada's 1.86 million residents of Indian descent, the impact of the visa ban is less disruptive, though some say it has raised some questions about their future in the country.

Those with an Indian citizenship, like Ms Sharma, are still able to visit India freely. So can Canadian citizens with an Overseas Citizenship of India card, which grants Indian nationals who live outside of India lifetime entry to the country.

"The issue is not about travel to India - those who have valid visas and other kinds of document like OCI are free to travel to India - but the issue is of incitement of violence and the creation of an environment that disrupt the functioning of our high commission and consulates," said Arindam Bagchi, a spokesperson for India's Ministry of External Affairs.

But Ms Sharma, who is also a student in Canada, said the recent tensions between the two countries have her reconsidering her long-term plans.

"A lot of students who are planning their future and who want to get a permanent residency in Canada are feeling tense, and are rethinking that decision," Ms Sharma said.

She said she is worried about whether the rift will have an impact on her ability to stay in Canada in the coming years. She is also concerned about whether it could bar her from visiting her family in India in the future, or vice versa.

Canada has a large Indo-Canadian population with deep ties to India. It is a popular choice for Indians looking to study abroad, and Indian residents top the list of immigrants in Canada.

At a news conference on Thursday, Mr Trudeau hinted Canada was not planning to retaliate with a similar move on visas, saying that he was not looking to provoke India with his allegation.

But the rift poses questions on the future economic ties between the two countries.

Hemant Shah, an Indian-Canadian who has lived in Canada for 49 years, said his biggest worry from the row is its impact on trade and business relations.

"There are a lot of Canadian companies working in India," Mr Shah, who lives in Winnipeg, said. "If I was in a business (impacted), I would be crying."

At Explore India, Ms Sharma said she has also been fielding calls from Canadians with visas who wonder if it is still safe to visit India.

She said she has reassured people that, despite any political tensions, Indians on the ground are ready to welcome tourists from Canada.

She said she feels safe in Canada, too, despite India issuing a travel advisory to its nationals urging "utmost caution" when visiting the North American country.

"We do not want the relationship between India and Canada to spoil," Ms Sharma said.

"People come up here to build careers, and for options and opportunities, and we want to maintain the harmony between the two countries."


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