Visa suspension: Canadian NRIs in limbo as travel plans to Punjab go for a toss
Kapurthala-based immigration consultant Inderpal Singh, who also owns a hotel in Jalandhar, said he has received over a dozen calls from Canadian NRIs, regarding their reservations and planned itinerary
The decision of the Indian government to suspend visa services to Canadian citizens has left Punjab-based NRIs, who were planning to visit their hometowns, in a lurch.
India on Thursday “suspended till further notice” its visa services in Canada. The move comes amid the escalating diplomatic row that erupted following Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau’s allegations of a “potential” involvement of Indian agents in the killing of a Khalistani separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June. India has rejected the charge as absurd.
Generally, NRIs head to India during September and October with the start of the festive season. Plus, the wedding season starting next month is an added incentive for NRIs to meet their long time.
As per officials, those who have their Overseas Citizens of India (OCI cards) and pre-approved visas can have hassle-free travel to India but those, who are yet to apply for visas or whose visas are under process, will have to wait for diplomatic relations between the two nations, to get cordial.
Wedding plans go haywire
Amarjit Kaur, a Canadian passport holder, said she was planning to visit India to attend the marriage of her niece in December. “I along with my family was planning to visit my brother after six years but Thursday’s development has put the plans on hold. We had already booked air tickets for December 15 and were planning to apply for an Indian visa in October,” she said. Another Canadian citizen Sandeep Singh from Dholan village said his family was to celebrate my son’s first Lohri in Punjab with his family and friends. “We have our OCI cards but were to apply for an Indian visa for our son. We will wait and watch before planning our itinerary now,” he said.
Jasmine Kaur and her husband Sumeet Singh, who are permanent residents of Canada, were all set to visit their hometown Ludhiana for a wedding in February. But now their plans have been left in a lurch as their one-year-old son, Karman Singh, who was born last year in Winnipeg, Canada, will need a visa.
“It is our brother’s wedding in February and all the bookings have been done. My sister got married and went to Canada four years ago and has not come here since. We all were so looking forward to meeting her,” said Jasmine’s brother Sukhpreet Singh.
Sukhdeep Singh, who originally belongs to Barnala and is currently a Canadian citizen, said since the festive season is coming, his relatives were planning to visit India but now “they are upset over the development”.
Sukhdeep added that many elderly NRIs prefer to escape the harsh Canadian winters and spend time in Punjab but the developments have left them in limbo.
“Many elderly people in the Punjabi community usually spend winters in Punjab. Returning to India will be difficult for those who don’t have an Indian visa or OCI card”, he added.
Navreet Kaur Kahlon, an immigration consultant said most of the NRIs have OCI cards and pre-approved visas but are still apprehensive that they might get stuck in the country.
Gagan Sarao, a Canadian citizen, said that he was planning a trip to Punjab to meet relatives in October. “I have already booked my flight tickets. I was to meet my in-laws in Patiala,” Sarao said.
Another Indian-origin Canadian citizen Avneet Singh said that he — along with his wife — had planned to meet in-laws in Punjab, next month. Avneet lives in Winnipeg City, Canada.
“I do not know what will happen. Like many others, I am also anxious. This has never happened earlier. If things do not change soon, we have to defer our plans or even cancel it,” Avneet said, who recently got Canadian citizenship.
Similar is the case of a family of five Canadian passport holders who were planning to visit their hometown in Faridkot from October 13 onwards.
The family had purchased non-refundable tickets as by advance booking, air travellers save money. But now the family is having second thoughts.
“The family, including an infant, was to attend a marriage and then spend time in India during the festival period of Diwali and New Year. They were hoping to apply for a three-month Indian visa during the winter and bought the tickets accordingly. Now as their visa applications cannot be processed, money spent on tickets will be wasted,” said the professional agent hired by the family.
Similarly, Sukhdeep Singh, a Canadian passport holder who is from Bathinda is feeling helpless.
His close friend Rajat Gupta said Sukhdeep lost his parents recently but couldn’t attend their funerals. “He lives in London town in Ontario province and was looking forward to the visit. He wanted to meet his sister, his only sibling, but now his plans have gone haywire,” said Gupta.
Calgary-based Varinder Singh Randhawa said, “We have planned to visit in January and we have OCI cards. So, I think we will not face any difficulty in travelling to India.”
Hotel, tourism industry worried
Kapurthala-based immigration consultant Inderpal Singh, who also owns a hotel in Jalandhar, said he has received over a dozen calls from Canadian NRIs, regarding their reservations and planned itinerary.
“The whole tourism and hotel industry is going to be largely impacted due to visa restrictions as the NRIs usually visit in large numbers during winters and wedding season. Two of my clients, who had bookings at my hotel, have asked me to cancel their reservations as most of the guests, who were to attend these functions, were Canadian residents,” Inderpal Singh said.
Travel agents in Ludhiana are flooded with calls from their Canada-based clients. Aman, a Ludhiana-based travel agent said he has received more than 250 calls since yesterday. “There are many Canadian citizens of Indian origin who had booked their flights in the non-refundable category and were yet to apply for Indian visas. Then there are those who do not have an OCI (overseas citizen of India) card,” he said.