India Abroad January 10, 2014 A11 US NEWS
along with BLS for not replying to people’s calls and e-mails.
If the problems continued he would organize a protest
outside the consulate next month, Kothari warmed.
“The easiest way to avoid much of the problem is to
allow those who held an Indian passport earlier to enter
India without any visa,” community leader Thomas T
“When a person becomes a US citizen and gets a US
passport he can carry his old Indian passport along with
it. Why are other documents needed?” he asked. “We do
not become less Indian by taking up citizenship in the
US. We are more loyal to India.”
In 2011, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs
banned outsourcing visa and passport-related work to
foreign firms. A letter from then Indian external affairs
minister S M Krishna asked the missions to award the
contracts to Indian companies. But there was no ban on
such companies on having foreign partners.
Visa and passport work was outsourced after missions
found they lacked staff and the required space to accommodate the growing number of applicants. But outsourcing has added new problems.
Reacting to complaints, Ambassador Dnyaneshwar M
Mulay, India’s Consul General in New York, recommended during a meeting with community leaders, that
the government of India terminate the contract given to
Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi said in
Chicago earlier that the government would soon replace
BLS officials responded to the complaints, saying that
they were assigned the responsibility in a hurry and
blamed the Indian government.
“We were not ready to start operations, but were forced
to do so. It was a Catch-22 situation,” Vicky Jain, US
country head, BLS, told India Abroad. “We got a week’s
time to set up office and find office locations in a city like
New York. The location and offices were inspected and
approved by consulate officials.”
To make matters worse, Jain added, the Indian gov-
ernment did not train the BLS staff, — most of whom are
Americans and don’t know anything about Indian visas,
passport laws and speak no Indian languages.
“Initially, things were in poor shape, but the situation
has improved now. We could clear most of the backlog.
People can track the information about their application
easily now,” Jain said. “We also send out e-mail notifica-
tions to applicants and 98 percent of the applicants are
In the last one-and-a-half months since he came to the
US to oversee operations, Jain said BLS has handled
services with 95 percent accuracy, even during the peak
season of December.
Earlier, BLS offices shut at 6 pm even if applicants
waited outside. Now BLS serves customers up to 7.30
pm, he said.
“Americans are employed at the offices because BLS
cannot show any discrimination or bias in hiring staff,”
Jain added. “If we advertise that only Indian origin people need to apply, it would be against the law of the land.”
BLS, he added, did not inherit anything from the earlier service provider, Travisa. It meant there was no continuity, a problem that Indian officials should look to
avoid in the future.
BLS faces community’s ire over poor
passport, visa services
‘I would like people to note the
following while using the BLS
; Don’t bother uploading a
photograph on the Web site,
because you still have to mail a
; Instructions for the photograph
are incomplete on the Web site. Go
to the Indian Embassy Web site for
; Directions on visa forms and the
Web site conflict with each other.
Don’t sweat it, just follow one of
them and you’ll be fine.
; Addresses and phone numbers
on the BLS Web site are wrong.
For example the address in various
places on the Web site says East
37th Street (no street #) instead of
addresses in the USA - anything
else might not get delivered).
; The Voice over Internet Protocol
phone system is very low quality
and every agent I spoke to was very
rude, even the ones who didn’t
hang up on me.
On the plus side after a huge
headache I eventually got my passports back with the visa, albeit a
couple of days late.’
Milan D, Edison, New Jersey
‘I made a mistake the first time
by applying for a visa to visit India
by being honest about my occupa-
tion, which is financial journalism.
Every time I want to visit I have
to apply for a J-1 visa. And each
time it is not so much an issue
with the consulate itself, but with
the outsourcing partner.
They had my passport since
September 12, 2013. I received an
e-mail from the press office at the
India Consulate telling me they
had granted my visa and returned
it to BLS September 16, 2013.
Even by September 23, 2013, I
did not get my passport. I phoned
BLS and spoke to three different
people who all claimed it was still
at the consulate center.
I informed them I was going to
let the consulate know that they in
essence were accusing them of
lying, given that they insisted it
was with the consulate.’
Rick A, New York
— As told to George Joseph
The entrance to the BLS office in New York guarded by a doorman.