Opposition MPs question purpose of Canadian consulate in Chandigarh, India, that sends work to New Delhi

Don’t see what the fuss is about. Distinction between front and back office functions fairly common. Decision to open Chandigarh was political as reported in article and, if I recall correctly, Global Affairs was not happy with the decision.

The office had a wall highlighting some of the fraudulent practices when then IRCC Minister Kenney visited it:

Opposition MPs on the House Immigration Committee are accusing the government of “deception” and “lack of transparency” after learning by “happenstance” two weeks ago that visa applications filed in the Canadian Consulate in Chandigarh, India, are processed in New Delhi, raising questions about the need for the consulate office when that work is done in the capital city.

In a House Citizenship and Immigration Committee meeting on Feb. 27, Conservative MP Kyle Seeback (Dufferin-Caledon, Ont.) asked departmental officials if they had any statistics on how many visa applications the Chandigarh office receives and the success rate of those processed there, compared to the New Delhi office. He said he asked this question because he had received numerous complaints from his Indo-Canadian constituents about the low success rate in getting visas in Chandigarh.

Mr. Seeback cited a specific example in which a visitor visa application was denied because the applicant had no travel history, when the applicant’s passport clearly showed that the same individual had a U.S. visa and had a travel history.

“Is there any review that takes place with respect to visa officers that are clearly making mistakes when they are rejecting a temporary resident visa, and there’s a procedure for a Member of Parliament or individual to raise that issue and see if there is any redress that would happen in the department?” Mr. Seeback asked, according to the transcript of the meeting.

In response, a senior departmental official told the committee that “for the last couple of years,” visa applications filed with the Chandigarh office were being processed in the New Delhi office. This was a surprise to many committee members; the idea behind opening the full service consulate office in Chandigarh in 2003 was to help Indians in the Punjab province and the neighbouring area to get service without having to travel eight or nine hours to get to the capital, where they often had to queue at 4 or 5 a.m. to get in.

In addition to the residents of Punjab, the residents of neighbouring province Haryana also visit the consulate office in Chandigarh, as it’s a shorter commute than New Delhi.

“So, I was absolutely shocked by that answer,” Mr. Seeback told The Hill Times. “I’ve spoken to other Liberal Members of Parliament who did not know that this was the case, and they were shocked that this was the answer given. As far as I know, this was not announced, and no one is aware of the fact that people in Punjab who go to Chandigarh to apply for a visitor’s visa, … they are effectively going to [be processed in New Delhi].”

In his response to Mr. Seeback’s question, the immigration official also said the decision making has been “shifted to Delhi,” but did not provide any specifics as to when the change happened, whose decision it was, who was consulted, and why this information was not publicly shared. He said only “complex” cases are handled in Chandigarh, but it was unclear what he meant by “complex” cases.

It’s not clear whether residents of Punjab and neighbouring areas are being forced to travel to New Delhi again for interviews as part of the application process.

“I do want to mention quickly that we do not process visa applications in Chandigarh, everything is now done in Delhi,” Harpreet Kochhar, assistant deputy minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, told the committee. “That has been happening for a couple of years. The decision making has shifted from Chandigarh to Delhi. [Only] complex cases are done in Chandigarh, but most of the decision making has shifted to Delhi,” Mr. Kochhar told the committee, according to the meeting transcript.

He conceded that sometimes officials make mistakes in their application reviews. But Mr. Kochhar added that sometimes individuals have visas for the U.S. or other countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, but have not actually travelled, which means they do not have travel history. Also, he said, the department has its internal quality control processes in place to evaluate how officers are processing applications. Mr. Kochhar said the unsuccessful applicants have the option to reapply.

“I do accept that at times there are mistakes. We regularly do a quality control check on our applications. We have an internal system of doing that, as well as the clients are more than welcome to reapply. We will reconsider if they reapply,” he said.

Mr. Seeback, who in the past represented the riding of Brampton West, said he was planning on questioning Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino (Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont.) on this subject in the coming weeks.

In an emailed response to written questions, a spokesman for Mr. Mendicino said the change to process visa applications from Chandigarh in New Delhi was made to speed up the processing times. He said the department is transitioning to a more centralized system to expedite the application review system.

“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has been moving towards a more integrated, modernized and centralized system in order to speed up application processing and to improve client service,” wrote Kevin Lemkay, press secretary to Mr. Mendicino, in his email. “The department moves applications around its global network to ensure they are processed as efficiently as possible, which means applications may not be processed at or decided upon by decision makers at the office closest to where a client lives, or where an application is submitted.”

Mr. Lemkay also said that regardless of where the applications are filed, all applications are processed under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. He wrote that in 2018, 393,000 visas were issued to Indian nationals, an increase of more than 50 per cent compared to 2017.

“Applications may be distributed throughout IRCC’s networks to provide optimal processing times and to improve client service. Regardless of geography, all decisions are made in accordance with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and Regulations,” he said.

Neither Mr. Lemkay nor the department would say where the personal interviews for visa applications are done, or what is the precise role of the Chandigarh office. They also did not say what Mr. Kochhar meant by “complex” cases” that are processed there. The Hill Timesreached out to Mr. Kochhar for an interview request, but his office referred all questions to the departmental communications office.

“While the majority of temporary resident applications are processed in New Delhi, many are also processed in Chandigarh,” Mr. Lemkay said in his email. “Clients can submit their temporary resident applications to the nearest Visa Application Centre.”

Former Liberal cabinet minister Herb Dhaliwal—who played an instrumental role in opening up the Chandigarh office while in Jean Chrétien’s cabinet—questioned why Canada still has its office there if applications are being handled in New Delhi, in an interview with The Hill Times. He also said if the interviews are done in New Delhi, then it defeats the purpose of establishing the consulate office.

Mr. Dhaliwal said he was lobbied by members of the Punjabi community while a B.C. MP and cabinet minister to ask the government to set up an office in Chandigarh, as it was a long and expensive commute for their relatives and friends to apply for visas in New Delhi. The Punjabi community is an influential part of the Liberal Party’s voter base.

In 2003, Mr. Dhaliwal accompanied Mr. Chrétien to inaugurate the office.

“What exactly does the Chandigarh office do now?” questioned Mr. Dhaliwal.

None of the Liberal MPs from the Immigration Committee responded to interview requests from The Hill Times.

NDP MP Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.) said that it was news to her that applications filed at the Chandigarh office are processed in the capital city. She said she looked up the Immigration Canada website after the committee meeting to see if there’s any indication as to where the applications filed with the Chandigarh office are processed, but didn’t find any information. Ms. Kwan said the government should be more transparent about this information, as an applicant has the right to know where his or her application would be reviewed.

“The government, with this change in not informing the public or anyone else for that matter, and the way in which they’ve set up the website to make you believe that things are still business as usual, is deceptive at best,” said Ms. Kwan, who is also a member of the Citizenship and Immigration Committee.

“The government, you know, in going forward with this without sharing basic information to the public about it, I think, is inappropriate. What are they [Chandigarh office] doing? It seems according to their website, the only thing they’re doing is to accept applications. Is that the only thing they’re doing? I have no idea, we don’t know. And there’s no transparency from the government on this.”

She said the lack of information leaves unanswered questions as to what does the change means for an applicant.

“In the very minimum, they should make it clear on their website, like people should know, right, and you cannot find that information out,” said Ms. Kwan. “And then more to the point, you will not know what it means.”

Source: Opposition MPs question purpose of Canadian consulate in Chandigarh, India, that sends work to New Delhi

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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