The Canadian government has reversed a 10-year-old policy that deemed the surnames “Singh” and “Kaur” unacceptable for Indian immigration applicants. These surnames, common among Sikhs worldwide and carrying religious significance, have been a source of controversy in the immigration process.
For the past decade, Indian immigration applicants with the surnames Singh or Kaur were instructed by the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi to change their names, citing that these names were too common and processing them quickly was challenging.
However, after the World Sikh Organization raised the issue, Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced a reversal of the policy within 24 hours. The government explained that the previous policy had resulted from a “poorly worded” letter and termed it a misunderstanding.
It remains uncertain how many individuals were affected by this policy over the years. Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla, representing Brampton-Springdale, disclosed that she received around 500 complaints from constituents within the last three years. These complaints were from family members whose names were deemed unacceptable when they applied for immigration.
The New Delhi immigration office is among the busiest in the world. Immigration Minister Diane Finley refrained from commenting directly on the matter, but department statements indicated that the policy was intended to expedite applications and prevent cases of mistaken identity due to the commonness of the surname Singh.
The government clarified that most Singhs or Kaurs often have an additional family name, even if it is not frequently used, which could be easily added to their passport.
Sikh tradition involves giving the name Singh to men and Kaur to women, typically as middle names. However, for those Sikhs who choose to be baptized or initiated into the orthodox order of the faith, their previous surnames are replaced with Singh or Kaur to symbolize unity and remove names used to denote social standing within India’s caste system.
The reversal of this policy has been met with relief and approval from Sikh organizations and advocates. Brampton lawyer Harinder Gahir, who often handles immigration cases, noted that some individuals did not complain directly due to concerns that it could jeopardize their immigration prospects.
Gahir emphasized that those with the surnames Singh or Kaur were explicitly told they could not apply with these names, contradicting the government’s later claim that such applicants were always allowed.
The controversy surrounding the policy prompted discussions about multiculturalism in Canada. Ruby Dhalla questioned whether changing one’s name should be a requirement for immigration, particularly in a multicultural nation. She noted that her riding, which has a significant Indo-Canadian population, celebrates the diversity that characterizes Canada.
While this policy reversal marks a positive step forward, it also raises questions about why the issue had not been addressed by politicians, lawyers, or the public before, and why it had never reached the floor of the House of Commons.
In conclusion, the Canadian government’s decision to end the ban on the surnames Singh and Kaur for immigration applicants reflects a recognition of cultural diversity and respect for Sikh traditions, symbolized by these names. The controversy surrounding this policy highlights the importance of addressing issues related to multiculturalism and inclusion in immigration processes.