India resumes e-visa services for Canadians suspended since September

The business, conference, and medical visa services resumed last month. Photo: iStock/mirsad sarajlic

After a two-month-long suspension, India resumed electronic visa services for Canadian nationals, as per reports. The business, conference, and medical visa services resumed last month. India had suspended the visa services earlier after Canada allegedly supported Khalistani terrorists. 

India in September asked Canada to reduce its diplomatic presence after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cited what he said was credible evidence of a potential link between Indian agents and the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen, in a Vancouver suburb in June. Canada subsequently withdrew 41 diplomats. India denied any connection to the shooting.

Mutual recriminations since Canadian PM made the accusation in his parliament have strained ties between the two countries - close for almost a century and with extensive links through the Sikh diaspora - to their worst in memory.

And while India's relaxation on visas may have raised some expectations of improved relations, it was not a breakthrough, as neither side has much incentive to hasten a return to normalcy, officials and experts in both countries said.

Neither New Delhi nor Ottawa looks likely to take dramatic steps to reconcile soon as Canada's murder investigation proceeds and Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepares for Indian national elections by May.

"The relationship is in deep crisis, perhaps its worst ever," said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington. "Each side may have a strong interest in the crisis not getting completely out of control, but that doesn't mean there are strong incentives to resolve the crisis."

Ajay Bisaria, India's ambassador to Canada from 2020 to 2022, said the relationship is in a "de-escalation phase" following "quiet diplomacy". Even with the reprieve, the visa curbs are expected to hinder the movement of tens of thousands of Indians and people of Indian origin who live in Canada or plan to study there.

Although both governments have spared business and trade links, the acrimony has delayed discussions on a free-trade deal and threatens Group of Seven member Canada's Indo-Pacific plans, where New Delhi is critical to efforts to check an increasingly assertive China.

Canada has the largest Sikh population outside Punjab, with 770,000 people reporting Sikhism as their religion in the 2021 census. India is by far Canada's largest source of foreign students, accounting for 40% of study permit holders - a vital source for Canada's fast-growing international education business, contributing over C$20 billion ($15 billion) to the economy annually.

(With input from Reuters)

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