Chennai Journal
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Visa Woes
Over the last few months, the work visa renewal process in India has changed. At first it sounded like an improvement: you no longer had to leave the country, but could renew through the local Foreign Registration office. However, just about everyone I've talked to using the "new process" has had problems, with a ton of bureaucratic drag and lack of accountability between the FRROs and the Home Ministry in Delhi. Worse, it's no longer even an option to renew abroad, but must be done in country. Some have said that the change is a deliberate attempt to discourage foreigners from working here. I don't know if that is the case, but the lack of clarity around the whole process has been frustrating to many. (It doesn't affect me personally because my own visa is good through early 2008, by which time I will have returned to the U.S. anyway).

There is also a lot of variability abroad in the practices of the Indian consulates and embassies with respect even to non-work visas. Some are pretty quick and reasonably efficient--London and New York are mentioned as examples. Others, like Chicago, can't even manage a simple tourist visa---in both Lia's and Sara's cases, it required a trip there to arrive early in the a.m., and then stand in line and wait--and wait. Sara's, sent before Thanksgiving express mail, hadn't even been opened early in late December when Marty and she drove down there finally concluding that they had to handle it in person. The person at the counter said they had not gotten to January visas, so if anyone was traveling that weekend, they were probably out of luck unless they did what Marty and Sara did, and show up in person. If the country wants more tourism, they are going to have to make it more user friendly. Americans don't need a visa at all for Thailand or Japan, and if you want to visit Australia or even Cambodia, you can get an visa online these days.

I guess people here would say the same --or worse--of the rigmarole the U.S. demands of our foreign visitors. However, this doesn't excuse what is a very inefficient and difficult process here. India has been able to automate the train ticket business quite efficiently, so it's certainly within the realm of the possible to do the same on tourist visas.

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