On Thursday, hour after hour, a steady stream of people surrounded a nondescript building in Surrey, British Columbia, carrying brown folders and stacks of papers. A lone security guard opened the door beneath a BLS International sign, just enough to speak quietly to the people outside.
The agency, which normally processes visa applications for India, was busy all morning after the Indian government suspended visa services for citizens of Canada, another step in a diplomatic row that is now affecting ordinary people.
Many of the people waiting Thursday had appointments and were looking for answers, despite the suspension.
“It is a very complex situation, but if we cannot travel, we are the ones who will suffer, not the diplomats,” said Manbir Singh, who is trying to sort out his paperwork before traveling to India to attend family weddings in November. . and January.
Others have more urgent needs, he said: “There are also people who don’t have [health] coverage here who want to return to India for better service.
“Those are the people who are going to suffer the most.”
Many who visited the agency said they were increasingly nervous about the deepening conflict between Canada and India. The suspension means Canadians who do not already have visas will not be able to travel to India until services resume.
The conflict “has left us all distraught,” said Santosh Sandhu, who already paid for the flights in October but could not get a response from BLS on Thursday about whether his visa would be approved.
Some were reluctant to speak to reporters, worried that an interview would negatively affect their applications, but visa delays at this time of year mainly affect people traveling for health reasons or events such as weddings and the Diwali festival. ahead in the fall.
“Whenever we deal with international disputes, it is ordinary people who find themselves caught in the crossfire,” said immigration lawyer Raj Sharma.
“That diaspora is now stranded in Canada.”
Sharma said the visa suspension will effectively freeze aspects of tourism, business, trade and international studies.
Canada-India relationship plummets
Ties between Ottawa and New Delhi, key strategic partners on security and trade, fell to their lowest point in years this week after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there were “credible allegations” that the Indian government was involved in the assassination of a Sikh separatist leader. on Canadian soil in June.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen wanted by India for years, was shot in June outside the gurdwara he ran in Surrey, a city of more than half a million people east of Vancouver.
A prominent Sikh leader, Nijjar, 45, had been active in a group supporting the fight for an independent Sikh homeland in northern India called Khalistan, a debate that has divided Hindu nationalists and Sikh separatists for decades. .
Trudeau’s stunning accusation sparked tit-for-tat reactions, with countries expelling one diplomat each. India has strongly denied involvement in Nijjar’s death.
Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi attributed the suspension of visas, which includes visas issued in third countries, to security issues.
“The security threats faced by our High Commission and consulates in Canada have disrupted their normal functioning. Consequently, they are temporarily unable to process visa applications,” Bagchi told reporters.
“We will review the situation periodically.”
He did not provide details about the alleged threats.
BLS has offices in other cities such as Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Brampton, Ontario.
About 80,000 Canadian tourists visited India in 2021, making them the fourth largest group, according to the Indian Immigration Bureau.
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