The diplomatic spat between Ottawa and Delhi will allow for only half the expected number of visas to be processed by Canada between now and the end of 2023, revealed Immigration Minister Marc Miller. This results in 20,000 applications, falling short of the intended target of 38,000 by the end of December.
The cause for this shortfall? India’s expulsion of Canadian diplomatic staff, only five members of which now remain to process applications coming in from the South Asian giant. Although some capacity can be picked up by the Canadian global processing network, other things can only be done from the ground, according to Miller.
The international falling out between otherwise friendly countries happened in September, when Prime Minister Trudeau accused India of killing Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Vancouver this June. Nijjar – who was a Canadian supporter of the separatist movement advocating for the creation of a sovereign and independent Sikh state out of India, called Khalistan – was identified as a designated terrorist in India.
“I understand and appreciate that our relationship with India can create some fear about what your status is in Canada, whether you’re a student, permanent resident or Canadian citizen,” Miller told the Citizenship and Immigration Committee recently. “My job as immigration minister is to make sure that people feel safe in a country that is there to protect them, especially against a foreign power. That is our primary responsibility.”
He went on to describe the issue as a “really unfortunate diplomatic issue” and said the Canadian government was “standing up for its principles.”
“I am not an expert on the government of India,” he added, “but we know the measures it took breach international law in making Canada reduce its capacity to operate in India.”
India Resumes Some Visa Services
In other news, India’s High Commission said that it would partially resume visa services for entry, business, medical, and conferences, after having suspended them on September 21 at the onset of the spat with Canada.
However, other ties between the two states are continuing to erode in a globally unprecedented souring of relations. Amidst this, business groups are worried that companies are being caught in a cross-fire that shows no signs of slowing down. Chair of the Canada India Foundation Satish Thakkar, for example, said about the matter that “it’s a very big shock and setback for the business community because this kind of episode creates a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to happen next.”
Chris Hannay of the Globe and Mail reports that before Trudeau publicly accused India, Canada had cancelled a trade mission and suspended trade talks with it. These discussions were being anticipated to produce an interim free-trade deal by the time the year wrapped up, but business groups have been thrown into a pit of uncertainty since then.
“Business wants clarity, stability and predictability, and those three things have not been there,” said president of the Canada India Business Council, Victor Thomas. “In many ways, we’re still trying to figure out how we navigate this new period of time.”
Trade Concerns for Both Countries
Both countries’ economies are heavily interdependent, which adds to the nervousness expressed by business groups on both sides. Roughly half of India’s lentil imports, for example, come from Canada. As diplomatic tensions rise, so does the uncertainty surrounding the grain’s supply and prices in India. On the other hand, India is Canada’s eighth-largest trading partner, and Ottawa generated $5.6 billion in exports (primarily in resource-extraction and agriculture) to the country in 2022. This is only a fraction of Canadian exports to China or the US, but still reflects a number too large to ignore.
Canadian tech is set to suffer too. “There’s a lot of tech industry in Canada that relies on support from India,” says Dalhousie University professor Robert Huish. “There’s likely going to be tensions that come up in that way too, so we can probably say that in Canada there will be fewer business dealings with India going forward.”
This is especially true as service-intensive sectors such as IT are based on talent – much of which stems from India. A large factor of Canadian dependence on Delhi, in fact, is the Indian diaspora, 1.3 million members of which identified themselves as Canadian in 2021.
International Students Also Have Cause for Concern
If the visa-processing issue continues, said Matthew Holmes, senior vice-president of government relations and policy at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, it could affect Canada’s push towards attracting international students. And with around 40 percent of its 800,000 international students coming from India, the use of international students as a labor source for local businesses may suffer.
“Will Canada be the top destination to send someone next fall?” asked Thomas. “Do they continue to come back when they’re looking at options beyond that?”
It was reported late last month by the ICEF Monitor that Canadian educational institutions are bracing themselves for a possible decline in the number of Indian students coming to Canada.
Travel might be hampered the other way too, however. Professors at Dalhousie University, Halifax, for example, say that the pause will disrupt travel, especially before Diwali.
“There is of course a problem for those Canadians who are seeking to travel in the next couple of months,” says Nissim Mannathukkaren. “That’s an issue because if the visa services are suspended they will not be able to travel if they have booked tickets.”
“There’s a lot of families with connections from across Canada to India and now their ability to travel back to India is completely on hold unless they have Indian citizenship,” explains Huish.