India suspends visa services in Canada till further notice
The news comes amid heightened tensions between India and Canada, after the two sides expelled each other's diplomats in an escalating row over the murder of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia in June. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has categorically rejected Canada's suspicions that Indian agents had links to the murder.
The government on Thursday suspended visa services for Canadian nationals "till further notice". The news comes amid heightened tensions between India and Canada, after the two sides expelled each other's diplomats in an escalating row over the murder of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia in June. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has categorically rejected Canada's suspicions that Indian agents had links to the murder. The Ministry of External Affairs is scheduled to brief the media at 4 pm.
"Important notice from Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21 September 2023, Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice. Please keep checking BLS website for further updates," BLS International said in a notification on the India Visa Application Centre portal, blsindia-canada.com. BLS International is an India-based company that offers online visa services for government and diplomatic missions worldwide.
"The impact of this move is negligible on our financials as the Canadian visa issuance business contributes less than two per cent to BLS International's total annual revenue," the company said in a statement.
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On Wednesday, India urged its nationals in Canada, especially students, to exercise "utmost caution", and to avoid travelling to areas and venues in Canada that had seen growing anti-India activity.
— Arindam Bagchi (@MEAIndia) September 20, 2023
Tensions grew rapidly this week after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government was investigating "credible allegations" about the potential involvement of Indian agents in the murder of Nijjar, and demanded that the Indian side address the issue properly. He, however, said that Canada was not trying to provoke India by any means.
India's Ministry of External Affairs dubbed the allegations made by the Canadian Prime Minister and foreign minister as absurd. Canada has for months maintained a security advisory for India.
The Indian government has long been unhappy over Sikh separatist activity in Canada and urged Ottawa to act against anti-Indian elements.
Meanwhile, the United States has voiced "deep concern" over Canada’s accusations. The department said this week that it was in regular contact with its Canadian partners, as it was critical for Canada's investigation to proceed and the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
Nijjar, who was wanted in India, was shot dead outside a gurdwara in a parking area in Surrey, British Columbia on June 18. He also served as the president of the city's Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara.
Canada has the largest population of Sikhs outside Punjab, with about 7,70,000 people reporting Sikhism as their religion in the 2021 census.
Since 2018, India has been the largest source nation for international students in Canada.
With inputs from agencies