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India suspends visa processing for Canadians

Published September 21, 2023last updated September 21, 2023

The suspension of visa services is the latest tit-for-tat move following the murder of a Sikh activist in Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa was "not looking to provoke or cause problems."

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A poster showing a portrait of killed Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar (L) is seen next to protesters outside of the Consulate General of India office in Vancouver, Canada.
The visa suspension follows accusations by Canadian authorities that India was behind the murder of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh NijjarImage: Ethan Cairns/The Canadian Press/AP/picture alliance

India has stopped processing visa applications for Canadians "till further notice," according to a notice that appeared on a visa processing company website on Thursday.

India's Foreign Ministry later confirmed that visa processing had stopped.

BLS International, an Indian company that offers visa services, displayed on its website an "Important notice from Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21 September 2023, Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice."

The move comes amid a diplomatic dispute between India and Canada over the killing of a Sikh separatist, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, near the Canadian city of Vancouver in June. Canada has said India was involved in the murder, a claim New Delhi has rejected as "absurd."

Confusion over suspension

The notice, which was reported by Indian media, was a source of confusion after it temporarily disappeared from the BLS website minutes after first going up. It later appeared again without explanation.

Indian consulate websites were down on Thursday, with no immediate comment from Indian or Canadian authorities.

But India's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi later confirmed the suspension of visa processing to reporters.

"The security situation because of Canadian government's inaction has resulted in disruptions and we have suspended visa applications," Bagchi said.

On Wednesday, India's Foreign Ministry warned its citizens residing in and traveling to Canada to be cautious due to "politically-condoned hate crimes and criminal violence."

Trudeau urges Indian cooperation in probe

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meanwhile attempted to de-escalate, calling on India to cooperate with the investigation into the Sikh leader's murder.

Speaking on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, Trudeau stressed his government was "not looking to provoke or cause problems."

"There is no question that India is a country of growing importance and a country that we need to continue to work with," he said during a press conference. But we are unequivocal around the importance of the rule of law and unequivocal about the importance of protecting Canadians."

India's Foreign Ministry said that Ottawa had not shared specific information about the murder. Trudeau on Thursday sidestepped a question on whether Canada plans to do that in the future, citing the country's "independent justice system" as a reference.

India warns on Canada travel after diplomatic row

Canada 'adjusts' diplomatic staff presence in India

Canada's High Commission in India said on Thursday that it would reduce the number of diplomatic staff working in the country over threats made on social media.

"In light of the current environment where tensions have heightened, we are taking action to ensure the safety of our diplomats", Canada's mission said in a statement.

"With some diplomats having received threats on various social media platforms, Global Affairs Canada is assessing its staff complement in India," it added. 

"As a result, and out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to temporarily adjust staff presence in India."

Bagchi also said he expected a reduction in Canadian diplomatic staff working in India.

"We have informed the Canadian government there should be parity in diplomatic presence", the foreign ministry spokesman said. "Their numbers here are very much higher than ours in Canada... I assume there will be a reduction."

rmt, ab/rs (AFP, Reuters, EFE)