>> Tuesday, October 7, 2008
By Ajay Pradhan | October 8, 2008
Canada does not have an embassy or even a consulate general in Kathmandu. Nepalis who wish to visit Canada have to submit their visa applications in New Delhi. Several years ago, the brother of a Nepali living in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb, applied for a visitor visa (Canadian government calls it Temporary Resident Visa) to come visit him, who was in hospital for a major surgery. The Canadian High Commission in New Delhi summoned him to the Indian capital for an interview. He had submitted with his application a letter from the sick brother's hospital, endorsing his application. The visa officer denied him visa. Reason? The visa officer said, no sufficient connection with Nepal. The brother applied again the next day, with no additional documentation. The High Commission invited him for another interview couple of days later. They granted him a visa. He spent six days in New Delhi.
A year later, another Nepali from Vancouver invited his mother-in-law and sister-in-law for a visit to Canada. They sent their visa applications to New Delhi from Kathmandu. The mother-in-law got her visa, without having to travel to New Delhi. However, the sister-in-law was asked to come for an interview in New Delhi. She was denied visa three times before being granted it the fourth time she submitted her application with additional documentation. The reason for visa denial was the same--no sufficient connection with Nepal. One piece of additional documentation she submitted the fourth time was a letter from this Vancouver Nepali, which made the case that the sister-in-law has a well-established family in Kathmandu and the temptation to default on her obligation to leave Canada at the end of the visa expiration date just did not exist.
Then there was a Nepali couple who was traveling to the United States as guests of a U.S.Congressman to attend an international event in Washington, D.C. The wife had a sister living in Richmond, another Vancouver suburb. The sister in Richmond had just given birth to a baby. It was a perfect time for the couple to extend their travel from the U.S. to Canada. A month before leaving for the U.S., they submitted their visa application at the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi in person. For the couple, to go to New Delhi wasn't much of a big deal as it was for the previous visitors, as they had a well established business in New Delhi. The visa officer denied them visa even upon resubmitting application for the third time. They traveled to Washington, D.C., hopeful that they'd be granted a Canadian visa if they applied in Washington, D.C. They were hopeful especially given the fact that they were guests of a U.S. Congressman. Guess what? They were denied visa there, too. Reason? Since the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi had already denied them visa, Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. would not consider revising the decision.
These are real examples and they defy logic of common sense. But, as much as they are deplorable, I'm not here to fight the discretionary powers of the visa officers in Canadian embassies around the world. The one singular point I want to make here is this--Nepali travelers who want to visit the U.S. have less hassle to go through in obtaining a U.S. visitor visa than those who want to travel to Canada. The reason is simple. Canada does not have an embassy or a consulate general in Kathmandu.
Having a Canadian embassy in Kathmandu has benefit not only for prospective Nepali travelers but also for those Nepalis who are Canadian residents or Canadian citizen who travel to Nepal. In February this year, I traveled to Nepal. A week before I was traveling back to Canada, I lost a briefcase with my Canadian travel documents. Without those travel documents, I wouldn't be able to return to Canada. So, I contacted the local Canadian Cooperation Office in Kathmandu to ask how I could obtain replacement travel documents. The CCO official told me it would take approximately 7 to 10 days to obtain such a document because the application for such a document would have to be sent to New Delhi. I did not have 7 days, let alone 10. Now, it's a different matter that I found the lost briefcase in time. I had left it in a taxicab. The cab driver had the good sense and honesty to go through the trouble of finding my address and bring it back to me. Needless to say, he received a reward and, more importantly, my gratitude. If there was a local Canadian embassy in Kathmandu, I would have likely obtained replacement travel documents on an emergency basis.
More involved diplomatic relations is important for Nepal politically, too. More intense diplomatic relations would enhance Nepal's image and its sovereignty in the international arena. It is through diplomatic relations that a country raises its international profile. Nepal needs to stand up with international partners and grow out of China-India spheres of influence. Because diplomacy works in reciprocity, Nepal should consider establishing an embassy in Canada or at least a consulate general. Then Nepal government should enter into dialog with Canadian government and invite Canadian diplomatic presence in Kathmandu.
Nepali social organizations in Canada have, on occasions, lobbied the federal government in Ottawa to establish a consulate general or at least a visa office in Kathmandu. I know that Nepal Cultural Society of British Columbia (NCSBC), for example, has lobbied Ottawa two-three times in the past years. Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) always sends a twin set of letters, one from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and another from the Minister of International Trade, with a stock answer: Canada has no plans of establishing a consulate general in Kathmandu at this time as it is not economically justifiable. It is incredible that a rich country like Canada uses such a feeble logic as a justification against opening a consulate general in a foreign country. Canada has a high commission (i.e., embassy) in New Delhi, and consulates general in Chandigarh, Chennai and Mumbai. Not many years ago, Indians in Canada successfully lobbied Ottawa to establish a consulate general in Chandigarh.
Of course, there are not as many Nepalis in Canada as there are Indians. So, this calls for pooling the strength of our Nepali diaspora in lobbying both the Canadian and Nepali governments to establish residential diplomatic presence in each other's capitals on the basis of reciprocity. For both countries it would be an investment worth its money.
The Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA), its international and national coordination councils, including the newly constituted NRN-Canada National Coordination Council should initiate a concerted campaign to lobby both Canadian and Nepali governments to step up their diplomatic presence in each other's capitals. NRNA should take this up as a priority task for 2009. It's time for NRNA to grow new wings and add diplomacy as a role for it to act on, in addition to philanthropy and foreign direct investment.