Thursday, September 29, 2011

Adventures in Visaland

I was at the FRRO again on Tuesday. We started the visa renewal process in January, providing all the paperwork required for the visa renewal that had to be done by the company. All they had to do was print it out on stationery or stamp paper, sign it, stamp it and give it to me. That took until the third week of April.

Paperwork involved:

  1. Cover letter requesting visa renewal from company
  2. Visa renewal form
  3. Statement of Undertaking
  4. 1% Foreign Employee Certification
  5. Form 16s (Like W2s in the US) - all years in residence
  6. Tax Returns - all years in residence
  7. Rent Agreement
  8. Proof of Residence (Telephone bill)
  9. Employee contract
  10. Pay Slips  - all years in residence
  11. Passport copies with all visas  - all years in residence
  12. Passport photos

My visa expired in May. You are supposed to file for a renewal 60 days prior to expiration. Got reprimanded because HR couldn't get their stuff done. Blamed it on them, and the FRRO officer seemed satisfied. I was given a two month extension. AFter that we went back every week or two to check on the process. When we got to two weeks prior to the new extension, they were telling us to come back, without providing any written proof that we were in process for the full year nor any kind of documentation proving to my company that we were still legal. We kept returning, trudging up four flights of stairs (the elevator has not worked in the four years I've been here), just to wait around for an hour or two and told to come back next week or ten days. Our visas expired and they did not seem to find that unusual. I needed to travel out of the country, but there was no way to leave the country without a valid visa. My company was slamming me, as if it was me stalling the process.

I took a colleague to the Home Ministry who had a sister who used to work there. She gave us the name of an officer still working there. We restarted the process again with this particular officer and within 3 hours we were out of there with another 2 months, which allowed me to leave the country.

On Monday this week, my son went to the FRRO and discovered the visas were finally back from Chandigarh. They refused to give them to him because I had to be present. On Tuesday, I arrived and was told to come back tomorrow because I didn't have my son with me. I started to cry, telling him how this was causing so much trouble for me at  work and that didn't seem to phase them, then I launched into a tirade about how my son was in school and a minor and how as his parent I should be able to pick it up myself. This seemed to work, and they processed his visa along with mine. Thank f*cking god… The entire process took from January to September. Nine months of work to get a one-year visa. Unbelievable.

Indian Visa Extension

As I was leaving, heading down the stairs, a young asian woman was walking up, and shrieked, "Oh! I know you! You write a blog, right?" Then she looked a little hesitant, probably because of my perturbed look on my face. She said that she read my blog and recognized me from the photos there… it was the first time anyone recognized me in person, but it was really gratifying. She said she read it all the time, which made me feel great about the effort I'd made in posting my experiences. :-)

After completing my Indian visa, I had to head over to the Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, which is located right behind the US Embassy in Delhi. Yu Yu, being a Burmese national and the daughter of the ex-counsel of Myanmar in Kolkata, had connections. Americans have great difficulty entering Myanmar, unless under a recognized tour group. I was looking for a multiple entry business visa. A rare gift to an American. She helped me coordinate my application. I was told to bring a copy of my passport, letters of invitation from the show organizers, and a couple of photos. That's it. I was told during my conversation at the Embassy that I couldn't get a multiple entry this time, but my next visit would not be an issue (I'm scheduled to visit Myanmar in October and again in November).
Myanmar Business Visa

We returned at 4:30 for a completed visa. Took less than 5 hours. Now that's efficiency. :-) Two visas in one day.

I'm lucky to be American. There are few countries that actively bar Americans, most don't require visas. Indians have a lot more difficulty acquiring visas for business and I am sure most of it is racial profiling. Brazil is one place where we are required visas, myself included, but we were not received the same way. I was traveling with two Indian colleagues and we all had lots of extra bags since we were hand carrying all the products to be displayed at the show, probably 50 kgs a piece. I was warmly greeted, welcomed into the country and told to enjoy my stay. The same immigrations officer said absolutely nothing to my colleagues. We picked up all our baggage and headed out towards the exit. Two heavily armed guards approached the three of us, pointed at both men, and told them to come in for questioning. Me, standing in the middle, was told I was free to leave. We had exactly the same mountain of bags, but I'm a white American.  I waited an hour and a half for them to finally be released.

A CEO I work with was refused an American business visa because he's only 26 and couldn't possibly be the head of a 200-person development company. The mountain of paperwork he had to produce is worse than what I need for my visa renewals here, including bank statements going back years. I find this an invasion of privacy.

Most people don't travel internationally, but having experienced this over time and region, it is getting harder and harder to secure visas in a timely manner from any country (except Myanmar - thank you!). Visa reform needs to be looked at across the globe. In this time, where information can be found at your fingertips, why can't most of these processes be automated and online? Travisa in New York City does a good job in the US processing Indian visas (it only takes a day there, but 9 months here). You go online, set up an appointment, all required paperwork is listed in detail, head there, submit your papers, and by 5:30, 6:00 PM, you are notified online whether or not it has been approved. Simple.

I'm looking forward to Myanmar. Next week, I'm heading to Dubai. When I travel, I usually tweet (@jeanneleez) and foursquare my experiences. Feel free to join me via the "interwebs". See ya. :-)


  1. we are in the middle of organising Visas for Thailand, it's not looking like an easy process here either :(

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  5. I can't believe Indians write on passports with pens. Seen this with my Japanese friend and another German friend here in Chandigarh. Now seeing it on yours. Ridiculous.