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Indians still want to move to Canada despite growing anxiety over political tensions

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TORONTO -

As tensions flare between India and Canada, recruitment firms say interest from workers moving between the two countries has not dropped significantly -- even though anxiety is building.

The firms attribute the uneasiness some Indians now feel around relocating to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's mid-September announcement revealing "a potential link" between India's government and the killing of a Sikh leader in B.C. that Canada was investigating.

Canada later removed most of its diplomatic presence from India after New Delhi threatened to strip diplomatic immunities from them and their families.

The moves have made many nervous.

"We've definitely seen a large increase in people saying, 'Hey, why should I move to Canada?"' said Ilya Brotzky, chief executive and co-founder of VanHack, a Vancouver-based firm connecting employers and tech professionals around the world.

Before the tensions, he estimated about 95 per cent of the conversations his company had with Indians interested in relocating to Canada were positive. These days, it's dropped to about 80 per cent.

"We've never seen that before," he said. "It's a bit of an alarming trend."

Of the 32,115 international tech workers who migrated to Canada between April 2022 and March 2023, nearly half -- 15,097 -- came from India, a July report from the Technology Councils of North America and Canada's Tech Network found.

Indians are often sought after by Canadian companies because of their skills, said Arif Khimani, the president and chief operating officer at MobSquad, a Calgary company that helps businesses with recruitment and visas.

A high proportion of the Indian population has work experience or degrees in engineering, software development and data science -- areas that are seeing tremendous growth in demand.

Many are keen to move because they see Canada as a place offering a good quality of life, relative safety, beautiful landscapes and a decent health-care system, Brotzky said.

Entry to Canada also tends to be easier to land than U.S. or European visas, he said: "There's not too many better alternatives out there."

But even before strife with India materialized, he noticed some were growing weary of coming to Canada because of how much it would cost them to buy a home.

The national average home price was $655,507 in September, up 2.5 per cent from September 2022, according to the latest data from the Canadian Real Estate Association.

"The political (aspect) is just one piece of the pie," Brotzky said.

Yet newly-strained relations between Canada and India don't seem to have many thinking twice about immigration between the two countries, said Khimani.

"We're still seeing really, really strong demand if we look at the applications we're getting and there's still a ton from India."

However, people who have already made the move but don't have permanent residency or those who put in visa applications before the current geopolitical climate shifted are anxious.

"What we are seeing, of course, is just the nervousness, the uncertainty of whether people can stay or how long things will take or if things escalate, what does that mean?" Khimani said.

"Obviously we don't have full answers."

Kumar Erramilli has found staff who emigrated from India to work at his Toronto-based life sciences learning platform company ACTO are not worried about the ongoing tensions because they have Canadian citizenship.

However, Erramilli and his two co-founders, who each hail from India, are worried about how they will visit a team ACTO keeps in Hyderabad.

Erramilli usually visits the group every November or December but is currently restricted because he doesn't have Overseas Citizenship of India status, which would allow him to travel between both countries more freely.

India has suspended much of its other visa services for Canadians.

"I'm not able to go and get an Indian visa and go to India right now, which is hindering our workflow significantly," he said.

"In the same vein, I'm not able to get some of my key strategic folks to travel there and come to Canada without any friction, so it's a bit of a struggle right now."

However, he is more hopeful of a return after news Wednesday that India's high commission in Canada would resume processing some types of visa applications for business, medical and conference travel as well as entry for people in India.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 26, 2023.

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