Canada, India travel up 116% from last year as visa shutdown spurs fears

Click to play video: 'India shuts visa offices in Canada'
India shuts visa offices in Canada
WATCH ABOVE: India shuts visa offices in Canada – Sep 21, 2023

Travel from India to Canada grew more than 100 per cent year over year this summer, according to new federal data released on Friday.

That surge comes as countries around the world continue to ease COVID-19-related travel restrictions and is raising new questions about the number of people who could see their travel plans at risk after India announced this week it has shut down visa centres in Canada amid a diplomatic row.

Last year, there were a total of 28,000 trips in the month of July from India to Canada. This July, that number was 115.9 per cent higher than last year at 61,000 trips, new Statistics Canada data shows. However, the number of trips dropped from June, which saw 64,000 trips from India to Canada.

The rise in the number of trips has illustrated what’s at stake as diplomatic tensions rise between India and Canada over the killing of a B.C. Sikh leader in June this year.

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On Thursday, India halted visa services in Canada. The news was first shared as a notice on the BLS Indian Visa Application Center’s website. BLS is the agency that processes visa requests for India.

“Important notice from Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21 Sept. Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice,” it said.

For Toronto resident Rohit, whom Global News is identifying only by his first name out of concerns that sharing his worries could impact his application for travel documents, this means he may not be able to see his aging parents this year.

Click to play video: 'India’s visa suspension in Canada upends travel plans'
India’s visa suspension in Canada upends travel plans

Rohit said he has not been back to India since 2019 and now, his travel plans hang in the balance.

“This came out of the blue,” he said. “It totally took me by surprise.”

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BLS processes many kinds of Indian visas, including visitor visas and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards, for Canadians. Visitor visas are necessary for people without an Indian passport to travel to India. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs describes the OCI Card as a “multiple entry life-long multi-purpose visa which enables the holder to travel and stay in India, as and when he/she desires to do so.”

This is the latest diplomatic escalation between India and Canada since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rose in the House of Commons on Monday and announced that there was “credible” evidence of “potential links” between agents of the Indian government and the murder of B.C. Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June.

Manan Gupta, an immigration consultant with Skylake Immigration in Brampton, said the latest round of tensions between the governments is not sitting well with the Indian diaspora in Canada.

“This is causing a lot of extra disruption and discomfort,” he said.

Many Canadian citizens still have close family members who live in India.

“This is going to hit a lot of people very close to home,” Gupta said. “It will affect common people.”

Overall, international trips to Canada rose from 6.1 million in July 2022 to 8.4 million, with the bulk of international visitors coming from the United States. In July, 3.1 million U.S. residents entered Canada and 3.7 million Canadian residents returned from the U.S.

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The biggest jump, in terms of year-over-year percentage, from an international destination was from China. Visitors from China rose by 243.5 per cent from 8,000 in July 2022 to 28,000 in 2023.

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