The visa processing center for India in Canada has temporarily suspended its services, further exacerbating the escalating diplomatic tension between the two countries. The suspension of services, which includes visa processing for entry, tourism, study, and employment, was announced by the BLS Indian Visa Application Center in Canada.
The notice read, “Due to operational reasons, effective 21 Sept. Indian visa services have been suspended [until] further notice.” While no additional details were provided, BLS is the primary agency responsible for processing visa applications for India. It operates physical centers in cities such as Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Vancouver.
Significance of Canada-India Travel and Education Links: Canada has become an increasingly popular destination for Indian travelers and students. In 2021, India welcomed approximately 80,000 Canadian tourists, making them the fourth-largest group of visitors to the country, as reported by India’s Bureau of Immigration. Moreover, Canada has emerged as an attractive hub for Indian students, with nearly 300,000 Indian students pursuing higher education in the country in 2022.
Security Concerns Impact Visa Processing: India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, cited unspecified security threats faced by Indian high commissions and consulates in Canada for the disruption in visa services. These security concerns have hindered the normal functioning of Indian diplomatic missions in Canada, leading to the temporary inability to process visa applications.
Canada Responds to Security Threats: Responding to concerns about security threats, the High Commission of Canada in India announced temporary adjustments to its staff presence at its commission and consulate locations in India. These measures were taken in light of certain diplomats receiving threats on various social media platforms. In a statement, the commission affirmed its commitment to protecting the health and safety of all personnel, including locally engaged staff, and safeguarding its operations in India.
Mutual Expectations of Diplomatic Security: In its statement, the High Commission of Canada emphasized the importance of respecting obligations under the Vienna Conventions and called on India to provide security for Canadian diplomats and consular officers in India, mirroring the protection Canada offers Indian diplomats in Canada.
Expulsions and Travel Advisory: This recent development follows the expulsion of diplomats by both countries this week. India, in response, issued an updated travel advisory urging its citizens in Canada, especially those studying in the North American nation, to exercise caution due to “growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate crimes.” The advisory further recommended avoiding venues in Canada that have been singled out as places where threats have targeted Indian diplomats and members of the Indian community opposing anti-India agendas.