Electronic Indian Visas – whoopee – for some of us …

Monday, 1 December 2014

If you’ve been waiting for the new and much acclaimed Narendra Modi government in India to do something you’ll notice outside of India here it is – electronic visas. No more endless hassling at the visa issuing offices, you can now (like the USA or Turkey for me recently) do it online.

So long as you’re from one of the 43 countries on the approved list. That includes Australia, New Zealand and the USA. It does not include Canada or anywhere in Western Europe apart from Germany, Norway and Finland. If you count Ukraine in Europe that’s OK as well.

IMG_1718 - India Visa▲  Indian visa office in Melbourne, Australia

Just in case you’ve missed out on the old wonders of getting an Indian visa here’s a story on my most recent application (PS China and Russia are just as bad, or worse):

The Indian government doesn’t boast about it, but they provide visitors with an advance taste of the country. A little preview of how things are going to work. It’s called the Indian visa experience.

Indian visas are a hangover from the era of the ‘Licence Raj,’ a propensity for elaborate paperwork, silly questions and everything to be filled out in multiple copies requiring numerous sheets of inky carbon paper. Of course in our internet era carbon paper and multiple copies have disappeared, but the silly questions continue and the bureaucracy is as bad as ever.

Start with the silly questions, of course there will be something about your parents and probably your mother’s maiden name. The Q&As for this latest Indian visa mission also wanted my parents’ birthplaces. Sadly my father died nearly 20 years ago and although I know roughly where he was born I’ve no idea of the exact village or town. So we’ll make that one up and move on to my favourite Indian visa silly question: ‘list all the countries you have visited in the last 10 years.’

Fortunately I’ve got that list – India isn’t the only country which demands that silly information – so all I have to do is swipe it with my computer mouse and drop the list into the box. At which point a message pops up ‘very sorry, when we said every country in the last 10 years what we really meant was every country in the last 10 years in 100 characters or less.’ OK, the explanation didn’t have all the pleasantries, but you get the message. So I give them all the As – Afghanistan, Andorra, Angola, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria – and start in with the Bs – Belgium, Benin – before I run out of characters after only telling them about the Bosn of my visit to Bosnia & Hercegovinia.

With pointless form filling out of the way I can then move on to the other part of the India experience: mind boggling bureaucracy. Amazingly this isn’t even real Indian government bureaucracy any longer. The outsourcing business may play a prime part in the Indian economy, but when it comes to issuing visas they’re on the other side, in the ‘send it out’ area of the outsourcing game. It’s been handed over to the London-based, but Swiss-owned, VFS Global organisation and clearly the instructions have been ‘don’t ask if it’s idiotic, just do it the same way we used to do it.’ Heaven knows VFS Global would be hard pressed to make things as hopeless as the Indian government could do, so there are no longer endless queues outside India House on Aldwych in London, but otherwise they’ve managed to duplicate the original experience remarkably well. Plus there’s another layer of bureaucracy to be paid for, so an expensive visas becomes even more expensive.

India isn’t the only country to pour money into a big-budget tourist office designed to attract visitors to the country and then counter balance it with a visa and immigration experience designed to keep them away. After all the USA doesn’t even have a national tourist office (they leave it up to Hollywood, Disneyland and the individual states), but they do have Homeland Security which wobbles between not even knowing what it’s doing and making the US arrival experience a thoroughly unpleasant one.