By John Dahodi
Ontario, CA: I have read with very much interest a few write-ups in India Tribune in the past about woes of some Non-Resident Indians in getting an Indian visa. But, recent guidelines to obtain an Indian visa have added hardships to fellow Indians. I have also read about protests, fasts at US Indian Consulates in San Francisco, Houston, Chicago and New York by several Indians to highlight the issue.
I would describe the real pain and sufferings faced by my own relative very recently to obtained a visa to go to India from the San Francisco Indian Consulate.
Before proceeding to start visa application, my relative read rules about all the document requirements and general process on the Consulate Web site and obtained an old passport renunciation letter. She called the Consulate to get a few more answers, but as usual no one replied to her phone calls. As only a few weeks were remaining, she decided to visit the San Francisco Consulate from Los Angeles. When she visited the Consulate, she was told to go to the special Travisa outsource office. Luckily it was nearby, she along with other 200 or more applicants stood in a line for an Indian visa along with their applications and documents from the very early hours.
She was shocked to notice that the person, who was reviewing their passport documents for pre-screening, was segregating the applicants in three different categories. First very preferred ones — White non-Indians; second —Indians with US Passports born in the USA, and the third — Indians with or without US Passports, but born in India. The first category was getting their visa in less than hour, the second category people have to come after 4:00 p.m. and the third were also told to come after 4:00 p.m. but given no surety of getting visa on the same day.
The Travisa outsourcing company employs mostly non-Indians, most of the employees who do not understand Indian languages and, therefore, unable to help Indians in their application process or reply to their questions. She has witnessed a very terrible scene when an old farming Punjabi people were almost in tears unable to answer questions of White, Chinese and Afro-American visa officers.
The Travisa office was located in the worst neighborhood, with many homeless and drug-users roaming and occupying the surrounding areas. It was frightful to stand in a line or wait in this area. Most of the applicants were taking shelter in the nearby grocery store and taking turns to find out whether the visa call had started. She was in the long line at about 2:00 p.m. instead of 4:00 p.m. but they were called at 5:30 p.m. to pick up their visas. It was real hell to pass those 3 1/2 hours in cold whether and that too in that worst neighborhood and in that tiny grocery store.
Some fortunate ones did receive their visas on the same day. Most of Indian born people were told to come the next day or pay for the postage envelopes to get their passports by mail. Some old men told my relative that they were staying in a nearby motel for the past 3-5 days and coming every day to hear the same answer. She decided to pay for the FedEx charges and came back to Los Angeles. She was the under impression that she will get the visa next day. But after three days she found out that the Consulate needed the oldest Indian passport from 35 years ago. She had submitted an old passport about 30 years old; issued by San Francisco Consulate. But they wanted a passport issued in India. As that old passport was in India, we somehow located it and obtained the copy of that passport from India and faxed it to the Travisa office. After another day, the office asked for a copy of the Green Card. She pleaded that the green card was submitted during the Naturalization process. But they insisted on having a copy. We searched our entire library and drawers and luckily got a copy of her green card, and we faxed it to them thinking that the matter would be resolved. But the next morning, we got a message that they want a copy of the original birth certificate. We faxed that too but again they wanted an official English copy as no one there could read Gujarati certificate. We complied with that. Now we had only four days left to leave for India. Tickets were booked and still we were not sure whether the passport and visa will arrive. She and her other relatives and muself wrote more than 10 e-mails, but we did not get any reply from the Travisa office. We were almost ready to ask our US Congressman to help us in our struggle to get an Indian visa. We thought we should write to our Prime Minister, but as we realized that he is up to his neck in resolving a 2G-scam and onion problem, so we left him alone.
When the last four days were remaining, she was thinking about canceling the travel plans, finally FedEx delivered the passport. Yes, a Visa for five years was there. Really our family celebrated the event like we have hit a million-dollar lotto. It was a very big deal to get Indian visa for the Indians born in India. Yes, more difficult than to get a kilo onions in India.
But the bottom line is that she and her kids were ready to give much more sacrifice just to visit their motherland. Indian politicians know that very well; therefore they do not feel any shame in demanding more and more from their own people.