Unresolved visas force Canadians to cancel trips to India

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dated: 2022-11-19 22:51:28 .

It’s 8:30 a.m. on a chilly Friday morning in Surrey, BC, and a line of people is snaking around a mall in suburban Metro Vancouver.

You’re not here for the candy store in the mall or the Filipino fusion restaurant. Most of them waited for hours for an Indian visa at the BLS International Visa Center to apply.

Dozens of people lined up outside the BLS International Office in Surrey, BC on Friday November 18th. It comes amid widespread reports of delays in India’s visa processing system. (Lyndsay Duncombe/CBC)

Armminder Bajwa is among hundreds of Indian visa applicants who say backlogs in the system are leaving people like him in limbo as visa applications have skyrocketed as global travel restrictions eased. It has been here since 5:30 in the morning when the temperatures were near freezing.

Visa applicants from India are calling for the return of the e-visa program that allowed online applications that existed in Canada before the pandemic, as well as more staff to address reported processing delays across the country.

“I spent about $8,000 on tickets,” says Bajwa from the line, surrounded by dozens of others trying to keep warm. “For my sister’s wedding… it’s my sister, and I have to be there because it’s like a tradition.

“This situation, inflation and all… $8,000,” he repeats.

Armminder Bajwa is one of dozens of applicants who have been queuing outside the visa office since 3am. He has already booked tickets costing him thousands of dollars so that he and his family can go to India. (CBC)

But Bajwa’s passport has been with the authorities at the BLS office for more than 17 days, and he is distraught.

Another person in the queue said they had been waiting for more than two months – despite the Indian consulate within a specified period of 30 days for a visa.

Before the pandemic, applicants like Bajwa had access to a completely virtual e-visa application, a program that had been shut down due to travel disruptions.

And while the program has been reinstated in more than 156 countries, despite India, it has not yet been reinstated in Canada Top source status of new Asian immigrants to Canada since 2016.

India’s High Commissioner-designate Sanjay Kumar Verma said the number of visa applications had risen to dramatic levels, but denied there were major delays.

But a voicemail from BLS International, to which the Indian High Commission outsources its visa applications, says “processing time has been extended.”

The company did not respond to a request for comment. But the admission of delay is scant comfort for Bajwa and others in his situation.

“The population in Surrey, Metro Vancouver is exploding. It is growing day by day,” he said. “They need more offices. They need more people.”

The travel agency says that the e-visa should be returned

Manpreet Grewal, manager of My Dream Traveler in Mississauga, Ontario, says BLS should consider opening additional offices in Canada and Ontario.

She says she’s been hearing about delays in the system for months and has even posted a few TikToks for visa applicants seeking advice.

“Nowadays there is only place in Brampton for the entire GTA,” she said in an interview with CBC News.

There are currently nine BLS International offices across the country – the only center processing Indian visa applications in Canada. They are concentrated in the largest urban centers, although more and more immigrants are finding their way to smaller communities. This means that anyone living outside metropolitan areas must either mail their documents to BLS centers or go there in person.

Grewal and the Indian Tour Operators Association called for the return of the e-visa program. The program allows individuals in eligible countries to complete an application and obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) before their e-Visa is stamped in their passport at destination.

Manpreet Grewal, a travel agent from Mississauga, Ontario, has created a series of TikToks with tips for people who need an Indian visa. He says it’s hard to get appointments, even for people who urgently need them because their Indian relatives have died. (CBC)

If applicants have Canadian citizenship, even if they were born in India, they must apply for a return visa as India does not allow dual citizenship.

“Main reason [for] “The delay in visas is because they don’t open e-visas,” she said.

The High Commissioner points to strained resources

The High Commissioner-designate denied that there had been significant delays in the system, but admitted that the number of applications had increased significantly, straining resources.

“When I look at Ottawa… October 2022 [visa] Applications compared to October 2021, applications are up 605 percent,” Verma said in an interview with CBC News.

He said the comparisons are similar for Vancouver and Toronto, with gains of 203 and 188 percent, respectively, since last October.

High Commissioner-designate Sanjay Kumar Verma said applicants should use the return service at BLS International locations, which are only in Canada’s largest cities, to avoid long lines. (CBC)

Verma encouraged applicants to check visa application deadlines on the Commission’s website and said those waiting in queues at BLS offices entered without a deal.

“As far as we’re concerned, we process visa applications and issue visas to eligible applicants much, much faster than people think,” he said.

Regarding the e-visa program, Verma said the program is being renewed “on a country-by-country basis, taking into account resource constraints.”

“There are talks. There are considerations. There are moves in that direction. If the two governments finally decide that, then of course we will hear the result,” he said.

A request for comment from Foreign Affairs Canada was not immediately returned.

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Unresolved visas force Canadians to cancel trips to India

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Source https://canadatoday.news/ca/visa-backlogs-are-forcing-canadians-to-cancel-trips-to-india-2-154729/

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