TORONTO: There is a rush for Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards as the Indian Consulate in Toronto is issuing more than a thousand such cards each month.
Though figures for 2012 are not yet available, the consulate issued 13,481 OCI cards in 2011, according to outgoing Consul General Preeti Saran.
Saran, who served one of the longest tenures of five years in Toronto and is leaving to take over as India’s ambassador to Vietnam next month, says, “The figures for OCI cards issued in Toronto in 2012 are going to be even higher as more and more people are going for it (OCI card) as it is such a convenient document. While we issued 12,666 OCI cards in 2008, this number jumped to 13,481 in 2011.’’
The consulate general is also issuing record number of visas year after year. “We issued 73,939 visas in 2008, and this number jumped to 77,280 in 2011. Definitely, there is a big rush for the Indian visa here,’’ says the consul general.
Even the demand for Indian passports has also shown a big upswing. “As against 9,583 passports issued in 2008, the figure in 2011 jumped to 12,934. During the same period, the number of PIO cards issued went from 2,035 (in 2008) to 2,478 (in 2011),’’ says the head of one of the busiest Indian missions anywhere in the world.
Preeti Saran, who oversaw the streamlining of visa and consular services in Toronto, sees a bigger jump in the number of visas and OCI cards to be issued in the coming years.
“Earlier, people had to wait for a long time, but our streamlined visa work is now helping applicants. Whereas it used to take us a week to 10 days to issue visas earlier, now we are trying to do it in 24 hours because of the changes we introduced.”
According to Preeti Saran, the Brampton office has been a boon for visa applicants as a large number of Indians live in Brampton and Mississauga.
Inaugurated by Saran herself in February, the Brampton visa office, run by BLS International Ltd, offers services at a reduced fee of just $7.40 as against $20 being charged previously.
It also offers on-site photo-copying and internet services at a nominal charge, apart from parking and other state-of-the-art facilities.
Interestingly, Saran’s five-year tenure as consul general coincided with unprecedented changes in Canada-India relations, including Canada’s end of nuclear ban on India and the signing of the nuclear deal in 2010, the visit of any Indian Prime Minister here in almost four decades and big cultural exchanges such as the IIFA Awards in Toronto in 2011.
“I am very fortunate that I was here at a critical phase in our relationship. What was the highlight in our changing relationship took place in Toronto,’’ she says, referring to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Toronto in June 2010 to sign the nuclear deal with his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper.
“That was the first visit by any Indian Prime Minister in 37 years, and we signed the nuclear deal. The Comprehensive Economic Partnership is also nearing completion…I am fortunate to be part of all these activities,’’ she says.
“We saw heightened cultural activities between our two countries, including the IIFA awards in Toronto in 2011…then there have so many ministerial and delegation visits and exchanges…in PDAC (mining conference), India’s participation has grown substantially. So I am happy that I was here during this phase in our bilateral relationship,’’ says Saran who now moves to a strategically far more important assignment of India’s ambassador to Vietnam.