Canada Allows Sikhs to Keep Last Names

TORONTO, Canada (AP) — The Canadian government has reversed a decade-old policy that forced Indian Sikhs with the common last names Singh or Kaur to change their surname before they could immigrate.

The Canadian High Commission in New Delhi had told Indians wishing to immigrate that the religious Sikh surnames were too common to process quickly and thus a name change would be required.

Sikhs, an Indian religious minority, commonly name males Singh and females Kaur.

After the World Sikh Organization raised the issue Tuesday, Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced it was canceling the policy Wednesday. CCI said the “policy” was a misunderstanding based on a “poorly worded” letter.

The policy drew scrutiny when Tarvinder Kaur, a Calgary woman waiting for her husband, Jaspal Singh, to arrive in Canada, told the media that his permanent residency application had been delayed for more than a month because of his last name.

A national Canadian news organization posted the letter to Kaur from the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi on its Web site. The letter, dated May 17 and addressed to Jaspal Singh, states: “Please note that your surname must be endorsed on your passport. The names Kaur and Singh do not qualify for the purpose of immigration to Canada.”

Canada’s immigration department then issued a statement Wednesday that said “Permanent resident applicants with the surnames Singh or Kaur are not required to change their names in order to apply.”

A Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokeswoman said that while Sikhs commonly assume the surnames Singh and Kaur, most also have a traditional family surname that they normally use for the immigration application.

Canadian 2001 census figures state that 278,410 Sikhs live in Canada.

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AP, via the San Francisco Chronicle, USA
July 26, 2007

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This post was last updated: Friday, July 27, 2007 at 3:46 PM, Central European Time (CET)