A10 COVER STORY India Abroad August 29, 2014
My sense is that things are settling down, (but) some things
are still taking some time. Part of the problem is that we
have a degree of overload in the system because through
the time of transition, the loads on the visa side were very
And, I must say this, I was looking at the visa figures and
I really spent a lot of time on this issue. People are not taking long-term visas as much as they should. Maybe the
fault is on our side, maybe we should be sending out that
message louder. But I find that less than 50 percent of the
visas are actually long duration visas — five to 10 years.
Roughly half the visas are six-month, one-year visas. So, to
the extent that people can apply for longer visas, they
would be doing themselves a service, (and) they would be
helping us as well.
Have you any idea why people are not applying for long-
These are people for whom there is no need. I understand
that. But there are people (who) for some reason have a
perception that somehow that is more difficult.
Are you saying that’s not true — that it is not more diffi-
It is not true. So, I would say, it would help us enormously if people actually apply for longer-term visas and we
would be very happy to give it.
Is the cost the same?
The cost is higher.
No, not much. The cost is a little high. But, we would
encourage people very much to apply for longer-term visas.
And, if there is anybody who has a perception that this is
difficult, I’d be happy to address it myself.
Number two, what we have done is also… I get complaints that I go to the service provider, I don’t get the right
People have told us it’s impossible to contact them on the
phone, or when they go, they get the run-around, etc.
The phone is very difficult. People say you are not
answering the phone or your phone is engaged. In this day
and age, people should not be relying on the phone, they
should be doing e-mails.
What we’ve done is that on our Web site, we have actually got a feature which tells people that if they have complaints, tell us by using this feature.
I have someone in my own office whose job is to look at
this, and every morning the first thing I do when I come to
the embassy and the last thing I do when I leave work is
really have this person come in and say where are we.
Is that person reading each and every mail that comes in?
Yes, and I am sending it on…In fact, we had issues of peo-
ple whose applications were in the pipeline and we’ve had
to kick it a little faster. Some of the complaints we have are
on refunds to the earlier service provider. So, we are trying
to facilitate that and talking to them and getting it done.
But my hope is that by helping and encouraging the new
service provider to come up to speed, things will get better.
That’s number one.
Number two, by encouraging people to apply for five to
10-year visas — that will be good for them, it will be helpful for us.
Number three, I see no alternative for some time except
personal monitoring. It’s a handholding process we have to
go through. So, at least for some more months, I would
expect to be doing this and I hope we will be able to then
have people sort of doing this more smoothly.
To me, this kind of level of dissatisfaction with the quality of services is something which should not be happening.
I’ve been an ambassador at other places and I’ve had
jurisdiction with a fair number of visas and I would certainly like things to be much smoother. It’s not just a hope.
I am trying to make sure, working with my colleagues and
working with the service provider, that we get this done.
Some people argue that Travisa was doing a pretty good
job and why then go to BLS who screwed up and then when
people complained bitterly, Cox & Kings replaced them and
now things seem as bad or even worse.
I cannot comment on individual companies.
I guess it was not on your watch?
Fair enough. But look, we have a process and it’s a process
laid out by the government, where we tender and someone
wins that tender, and once they win that tender, we’ve got
to work with them. So, if you tell me that company A is better or company B is better, I am sorry that company did not
win the tender. So, there’s nothing I can do on the matter.
But I have to work with the company that wins the service
Is it a case of overload that has created these huge problems? Today, India is a major destination and it’s not just
Indian Americans, but other Americans who are also keen
to visit India. So, in sheer numbers it’s obviously much
greater than it was 10-20 years ago. Is that a factor or would
that be a cop-out if it were to be used to explain this persistent problem?
Absolutely, absolutely (that it would be cop-out if this
were used as an excuse)… It would be helpful for everybody
concerned that those who have an interest to apply for
long-term visas, to do so.
But I cannot say as an embassy that too many people are
applying and I can’t handle it — that’s not a reasonable
answer. We have to improve our performance and our
delivery capabilities with the demand.
I am conscious of the fact that we’ve struggled in this
regard and where the embassy is concerned, we are going
the extra mile in backing up the service provider to get this
What can you promise visa applicants? Is there a target
date when this problem may get better? Or is it just a case of
taking personal charge and trying to alleviate it?
I can’t say I am taking personal charge. I can’t be a single-person visa-issuing authority. What I can say is that I will
definitely ensure that the embassy and the consulates will
give the fullest support to the visa service provider so that
there are less complaints — ideally no complaints — from
I will also do my best to ensure that some of the legacy
issues — people who paid the earlier service provider — are
brought to the attention of the earlier company and whatever has to be done, will be done.
And, again, in some cases — this is not a cop-out, (but)
I am sharing it with you — for example, there was a delay
in OCI cards, that’s a second complaint. These delays are
not at this end; it’s at the other end. We’ve made people
aware of the fact and that’s now come back on track. So, I
am reasonably confident that the OCI card delays will
On the OCI card, there were people who were so frustrated over the delays and their initial enthusiasm to get an OCI
card had become much more trouble than it is worth.
Would you still encourage people who are eligible to apply
for the OCI card and assure them that this time around
things will be different?
I would. And, I can, when there are delays — either unacceptable delays or inexplicable delays — I can understand
people being frustrated. I would be frustrated too if I were
a consumer. And, my approach is to put myself in the shoes
of the person across the counter, which is one of the reasons
we’ve been visiting the service provider’s office to see how it
actually works. And just the fact of going there has been a
So, I would still encourage people to do so. They shouldn’t
ÂI know the
‘On our Web site, we have got a feature which tells people that if they
have complaints, tell us by using this feature. I have someone in my own
office whose job is to look at this, and every morning the first thing I do
when I come to the embassy and the last thing I do when I leave work is
really have this person come in and say where are we.’
‘Believe me,’ Ambassador Jaishankar says, ‘when people are upset, they know how to make their sentiments known.’ PARESH GANDHI