Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Visa Hardball

At the lunch table the other day, the Visa Venkateswara   posts came up for discussion, and it occurred to us that, given her name, Goddess Visalakshi should be able to beat every Hindu deity hollow in this very popular and lucrative game. She is certainly losing out!

The materials-engineer-turned-journalist Sidin Vadukut has a funny post (funny only if you have not been hit by a stray ball in the game of visa hardball) -- Borderline Personality: Put Your Game Face On, Passport Control -- on India's e-visa scheme. Its funny-ness comes from his advocacy of strict reciprocity in dealing with travelers from different countries. For example:

USA: When visitors arrive at an Indian airport, immediately ask them to furnish the passport officer with passport photos that are no more than one hour old. Provide photo booths in the airport where visitors can take pictures at a nominal fee of ₹15,000 per photograph. When they have submitted seven copies of the photograph, allow them into the country after confiscating their footwear.

In any case, the reciprocity-in-the-visa-game is turning into a source of pain for Indians traveling to the US, and vice versa. While this has been happening on and off for quite sometime (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, with the earliest occurrence in this blog being from way back in February of 2006), the flare-ups make it to the press when the affected parties occupy positions far higher that that of a grad student or a professor. The latest celebrity to be denied a US visa is the Director General of CSIR!

Here's the The Economic Times report -- Indo-US ties: Denial of visas to scientists thorn in the flesh -- by Pallava Bagla who points out that India has been quite good at dishing out pain to the American academics who want to travel to India. The following excerpt is about the troubles of Dr. M.O. Garg, DG-CSIR:

This week, India's leading petroleum researcher Dr M O Garg, Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), New Delhi went livid on what he called was a 'denial of granting a US visa' for him to attend a scientific meeting in Columbus, Ohio. Garg heads India's largest network of 38 civilian labs employing over 4000 scientists with an annually budget of about Rs 3800 crore.

On June 1, Garg recounts that he spent almost half a day filling out screen after screen of questions to apply for his US visa which he calls was like writing down 'my janam-patri or life history', a day later in usual fashion he was finger printed and photographed. On June 3, he was asked to appear for the 'visa interview' which he did at 8.30 am and he recalls that 'questions for which the consular official already had answers' were popped to him which he says he patiently answered.

Then it seems his troubles began when he was asked to appear for another face-to-face interview at new window where he was now given a piece of paper with several questions and a 'tracking number'. Garg says having procured several US visas in the past this now meant to him that he was being 'singled out'.