A recent stakeholder meeting reveals the impact of the diplomatic strain on Canadian immigration services in India.
In a stakeholder meeting held on October 20, 2023, between Deputy Minister Christiane Fox of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), Deputy Minister Rob Stewart of Global Affairs Canada, and representatives from the Canadian Bar Association's National Immigration Section (including our friend Jatin Shory), concerns were addressed regarding the ongoing diplomatic tensions between Canada and India. The immediate fallout has been the expulsion of 41 Canadian diplomats from India, seriously affecting immigration processing services due to staffing reductions in Canadian missions.
That expulsion includes a significant number of visa officers and their dependents.
The tension, initiated by the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada and subsequent political repercussions, has led to a situation with only *five* visa officers remaining in India. My law partner, Bjorn Harsanyi and I have both served as
immigration officers many years ago--we understand all too well that such a dramatic decrease in personnel can only result in significant reduction in capacity; CHC Delhi necessarily can only focus on urgent cases and routine visa services can only be hindered.
We are of course grateful for the stakeholder discussion/inclusion and the insight it provides us at this time.
From the Canadian perspective such a mass expulsion is unprecedented and not accounted for in international covenants. It seems that Canada remains committed to not responding and respecting the privileges of Indian diplomats in Canada at this
With New Delhi's High Commission being one of the largest in the world, the departure of Canada-based staff significantly affects operations, as the mission processes thousands of visas and final decisions yearly.
The remaining visa officers' duties (now down to 5) are vast, covering essential services like printing visas, managing urgent processing, and coordinating with Visa Application Centers, Panel Physicians, and overseeing Canadian Immigration
Medical Examinations. The drastic reduction necessitates a challenging transitional period.
There are clear long-term operational impacts. The reality is that we need experience and cultural expertise on the ground. We do have locally engaged staff but the fact remains that Indian nationals, accounting for a substantial portion of
Canadian work and study permit applications, may face delays (despite assurances that impacts on students, particularly those arriving by January 2024, would be minimized).
There are clear implications for Canadian DLIs many of whom have put most of their eggs so to speak in the basket of international students that pay far higher tuition fees.
How will Canada cope with such a drawdown of essential staff in the largest visa office? IRCC's strategy includes redistributing tasks across its global network to uphold service standards (but may be constrained given India's restriction against international passport shipment).
Questions from the CBA representatives touched on critical operational details, including the definition of "urgent" cases and the management strategy for the significant workload typically handled by locally engaged staff at the High Commission.
IRCC communicated a strong commitment to maintaining processing times for Indian applications, leveraging global capacities, and implementing digital solutions in the COVID aftermath (this seems overly optimistic in my view). Challenges exist especially for in-person and high-risk assessments.
The IRCC representatives stressed ongoing efforts to mitigate service disruptions, focusing on communication clarity and exploring avenues like digital visas. While acknowledging the gravity of the diplomatic situation, they sought to provide
assurances that the conflict remains a government-to-government issue, with no broader implications intended for Indian citizens or businesses. It's hard to see how that can possibly be true given this development. Nevertheless I appreciate the efforts of our CBA and our National Section to provide clarity and maintain dialogue with the relevant governmental departments during this challenging time.