Playing professional sport is a tough enough in India, without the added caveat of having to indulge in administrative tussles. But, as many will attest, that is par for the course.
In a currently developing situation, Indian basketball star Satnam Singh, reached out to various members in the Union Government as well as the chief minister of Punjab, to help him secure a visa to ply his trade in Canada next month.
Satnam, who was the subject of the Netflix documentary ‘One in a Billion’, was the first Indian to be drafted by an NBA (National Basketball Association) D League team (Dallas Mavericks affiliate Texas Legends). This September, Satnam also became the first Indian picked by a club in Canada to play in the NBL (National Basketball League). Signed by the St. John’s Edge, Satnam, at the time, expressed hope that this would help resurrect not just his own stalled career, but also provide a blueprint for other Indians to follow him.
On October 29, he was on Twitter appealing to different parties — which included Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — to help him procure a work visa in time to play in the NBL.
As Satnam said, he needed to report for pre-season training by November 1, and as of Monday evening (October 29), he had not received any approval for a work visa.
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In a conversation with Newsclick, Satnam sounded anxious about the situation.
“Fro what I understand, they are wary of giving a work visa to me because they fear that I may not return to India,” he said. “There is a history of people from my state, young boys especially, leaving with a work permit and not returning.”
One of the key criteria listed for applying for work permits in foreign countries is to be able to show them proof that you will return to your home country at the end of your employment.
“I can understand this situation being a big concern for immigration officials, but I am a professional athlete. I have spent years in the US, playing there. I recently also went to Canada, when I was signed by St. John’s Edge, and came back even before my visa expired. Obviously, there is no history that indicates that I would illegally emigrate.”
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A source close to Satnam, who has intimate knowledge of the affair, spoke to Newsclick regarding the situation. He downplayed the player’s anxiety, albeit ever so slightly. The source also provided a different context to the visa trouble.
“Work visas usually take longer than tourist visas or student visas. It is the nature of the visa itself. We had applied for it as soon as he was signed, but unfortunately they have still not given it,” the source said.
According to VFS Global, the company that visa handling has been outsourced to, the average processing time for a Canadian work permit is 16 weeks.
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“In this situation, the time becomes a problem. He has to report for pre-season training, and the league will be underway by the time he actually gets it. Our request is that someone from the government look into this, treat this as a special case and fast track the process,” added the source.
There is precedent for this in several situations. Indians playing county cricket, club hockey or even representing the country at sporting events are often put on a privilege list to expedite their visa approval process. Satnam hopes that someone pays heed to his social media plea and help clean this situation up.
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