For almost two years I have chronicled my experiences with consulates of countries around the world. That guy was horrible! Those people are so inconsiderate! Doesn’t X country want tourists to spend their dollars there ? Belize is racist against Indians and Chinese! (they charge $250 for Indians and $2,500 for Chinese citizens to get visas)
Now it’s time to look home.
You’ve read visa woes from me. This time it’s visa woes for me AND Zara.
For those of you who haven’t been reading lately, we decided to ‘officially’ get married in Las Vegas, USA due to the huge amount of corruption, copious documentation requirements, sewage engulfed Delhi Municipality, and other crazy factors in India. We did celebrate our wedding in India with our parents and had a beautiful wedding reception!
One would think that once you’re married – it becomes easier for you to visit your spouse’s country. I mean, marriage (by law) is a union of families and a government recognized institution. When it comes to tax breaks, marriage is an advantageous thing! But when it comes to visas, well, with the Consulate of India in San Francisco it’s a totally different ball game.
Our journey with them began in late March 2013. We had tried and tried to get legally married in India but it was not going to happen (the marriage registrar was off on holidays due to Holi, etc. etc.). As we were coming to the US as part of our next big trip we decided to get married in Las Vegas, where it’s easy! (as all the movies have repeatedly told us)
Zara would need an Indian visa to return to India with me. But hey, it shouldn’t be any problem once we’re married – right ? Wrong!
Now, I have to digress. Around the world, consulates of different countries have begun outsourcing visa services to agencies such as Travisa, VFS, etc. This is great when your visa application is a very regular, run of the mill, I am a tourist on holiday kind of application. However, when it comes to anything out of the ordinary, the clerks at these services are like robots. They are the most frustrating visa vending machines that you could ever come across. They will not respond to you unless you tender the correct change. (literally, and metaphorically!)
Unfortunately, there remains now no way for Indian citizens to get in touch directly with the consulate regarding visas. Not only are there no contact details (for visa related queries) on the consulate website, you cannot even get a phone number or email address out of the travisa people to clarify your queries! The process has become completely opaque and not something that should be supported on tax payers money.
So, coming back to where we were. I found out about applying for Zara’s visa while we were back in India. We were planning to apply for her India visa in San Francisco. The Travisa (the outsourced guys) website says that you must be resident in the US to apply for a visa to India. However, under special circumstances, or emergencies, you may apply for a visa while you are a tourist in the US. Otherwise, you must apply in your home country – for Zara – that is Portugal.
I’ve heard similar stuff from consulates of other nations (Peru consulate in Quito, Ecuador, HELLO THERE!), but this clearly shouldn’t be the case if a) you are married to a citizen of said country b) your circumstance is indeed a special one.
I tried emailing and calling Travisa about this. This, while we were in India. They replied like absolute drones – “Sir, you need to provide proof of residency…”. To which, I replied saying again that we would be tourists, but we would be getting married in the US and would require a visa to go back to India. I clearly explained our circumstance and asked them to confirm with the consulate if it was going to be okay. Alternately, they could provide me with contact details for someone at the consulate and I would confirm myself. They stopped replying to my emails. Just like that.
That brings us to today! It’s 6th of May, we made an appointment with Travisa and showed up armed with all our documents. The moment we got there, the lady behind the counter literally shouted at us “Where is your residence proof ?”. I explained that we were not residents in the US, “No visas without residence proof!”. To which I replied saying that I had emailed Mr. Raj – “Raj, take care of these people!”. Raj was the guy who had emailed me earlier about the residence proof but then stopped replying to my emails. I had sent him two follow up emails spaced about 5 days apart to which he didn’t reply either. The moment he got there, without even saying Hi, he said “NO VISA WITHOUT RESIDENCE PROOF, NO VISA!! I CANNOT TAKE YOUR APPLICATION!”
“Hi Raj, you’re the guy I spoke to over email, right ? Why did you stop replying to my emails ?”.
His reply: “I stopped replying because I knew you wouldn’t buy what I was saying.”.
Then he continued.. “No we cannot accept a visa without residency and those are the rules of the consulate and so and so ………” (he wouldn’t stop and let me talk at all!)
WHAT THE… ?!
I had to interrupt him and raise my voice a bit because he just wouldn’t listen to me. At this moment the lady next to him interrupted me and said “Sir, PLEASE CALM DOWN!”
Me ? I’m just trying to explain my situation here.
“Please let me explain myself then ?”
I explained that there was nothing to buy. Point #15 of the visa guidelines clearly states that you CAN apply under a special circumstance if you are a tourist in the US. I also told him that we got married in the US and now Zara needs a visa to go back to India in June. I also added that the consulate is here to help us (Raj agreed), and that it would be ridiculous for us to go to Portugal to apply for the visa (to which he also agreed).
He said “Okay, we will apply but we don’t do the approval, I will try my best, but the rest is up to the consulate.”
Fair enough, I trusted that he would present the case appropriately to the consulate. Boy, was I wrong!
So I asked “When will we know ?” He replied “Come back in the evening at 5.30PM and we’ll know if the consulate said Yes or No.”
I asked if we could just call and he said no, they can only tell us in person. How inconvenient – but luckily we’re about a 10 minute walk away from the office so at least that works out for us!
We returned at 5.30PM. There was another lady behind the counter. The lady who had attended to us in the morning was busy with someone else, Raj was out of sight. The lady behind the counter tried to find our file but couldn’t find it. She realized that the other lady (the one who had asked me to calm down) had closed our file so she could no longer access it on the computer.
She called Raj, but in the meantime managed to find our physical file with all our papers. Right there at the top of the file Raj had written:
This woman is a non US resident. She has no proof of residence in the US but is persisting a lot. I told her it’s not possible and she should go to her home country. Need a reply from you by evening.
There was no mention of our marriage, or any other part of our story. In different hand writing scrawled below this note from Raj were some lines:
- NO proof of address
- No legal status in the US
- Go to home country and apply
We had effectively been told: “Hey guys, congrats on your wedding but you know what, to help your wife visit your family in India and live there with you, just take a short $2000, 14 hour flight to Portugal and apply for her visa there! And of course we won’t return your $156 visa fees either. TOODLES!”
In all of this, no one at Travisa admitted that Raj’s presentation of our application was in bad faith. This, after refusing to reply to my emails from a month ago, even upon repeated inquiries. When Raj finally appeared and I brought this up with him he started off with “I told you it was not possible, yet you insisted and ….” to which I replied with “Obviously if you present it this way no one is going to care about the application” and so on. I was told once more by the new lady to calm down (I guess I was just having a rather turbulent day!)
I asked him “Who is Mr. Bakshi ? Can I speak to him ?”
To which he replied “I don’t know, he is at the consulate I can’t get in touch with him”.
Further in the conversation he said that he had spoken to Mr. Bakshi over the phone and Bakshi of course said “NO WAY WE CAN GIVE THESE GUYS A VISA!”.
Zara later mentioned: “I wonder how he got introduced to Mr. Bakshi while we were arguing with him!” Food for thought!
Finally, I asked to speak to Raj’s superior. I asked Raj “Are you the senior most here ?” to which he replied “Yes”, then hesitated and said “But I have a superior manager.” I asked “Can I please speak to him ?”
So Mr. Manager came out and he was well dressed and confident. I explained our situation to him to which he pretty much had the same replies. I showed him what Raj wrote but he didn’t want to read it and said “I trust my employees”. Eventually after about 5 minutes of going back and forth Zara said “Would you please read what he wrote and tell us that you made the application to the consulate in good faith ?”. He read it and his reply was “Even if Raj wrote here: Do not grant them a visa – it would have no effect.” I wanted to ask him: “Why did he write anything at all then ?” – but I refrained myself. I told him that Raj didn’t respond to my emails from a month ago and that we flew to the US to get married and finally are at this point. Eventually I asked him to help us and somehow, I managed to convince him to resend the application to the consulate properly explaining our situation. He agreed and asked us to come back tomorrow (7th May) at 5.30PM to check on what’s happening. He said it would take him all day to sort this out with Mr Bakshi!
So there it is, after paying $156 (non-refundable by the way) and getting treated pretty badly by Travisa, I have no idea of what to think of this experience with the Indian consulate. Some may say that this is Travisa and not the Indian consulate but they represent the Consulate General of India, San Francisco, and the consulate should choose it’s representatives carefully.
In all of this, I, an Indian citizen still have NO WAY of getting in touch with the Indian consulate about my wife’s visa. There is no contact number, no email address, and even Mr. Manager at Travisa says he is not allowed to give it out. But, if tomorrow I get a negative response from Travisa, we will have no choice but to pay the consulate a visit ourselves.
In summary, we were told to fly to Portugal to apply for a visa to India for my lawfully wedded wife. I suppose that’s not at all unreasonable.
Stay tuned for more updates as our experience unfolds.
Well, today we went to apply for my visa to Portugal. No, we haven’t decided to fly there to apply for Zara’s visa. We were planning to go there in July for a close friend’s wedding and since we were going to be spending some time in San Francisco we thought we’d get my visa done here as well. The experience was really smooth, one look at the marriage certificate and it was all good. (our marriage certificate is apostilled by the Secretary of State, Nevada so that makes it internationally recognizable for countries that have signed the Apostille Convention)
The lady there was really nice and as per EU rules spouses get free visas, priority processing, etc. Also, residency requirements – while they exist for regular tourists to apply for visas – do not apply for spouses of EU nationals. The Portuguese consulate said that my visa should be ready by tomorrow. Woohoo!
It’s almost ironic considering my absolutely horrendous experience with the Portugal embassy in New Delhi in November 2011. Strange that now it has become easier for me to visit Portugal, and for Zara who never had any trouble getting a tourist visa to India (she had already gotten 5) – now that she’s married to me (and needs a spouse visa) – it suddenly seems to be a massive problem!
We’re heading to the visa office at 5.30PM to meet Mr. Manager. Let’s hope he has some positive news for us. I still think it’s absolutely crazy that they keep on insisting on residence proof when it’s obvious that tourist’s in the US will not have residence proof. It makes me very sad that Indian citizens are treated this way by their own consulate.
Bless twitter! I tweeted last night at India’s Ambassador to the US and she replied today asking for details of our application. Finally! I have reached someone at an Indian diplomatic mission in the US. I don’t know if this will have any affect on our application but at-least it feels like I can reach someone through some means and get an acknowledgement.
So I just got a response on twitter from the Consul General in San Francisco. He asked for our info and I hope he is able to help us out. It’s strange that everyone at the top seems to be quite receptive to our problem but Travisa would just brush it aside as a non-issue and say, “Hey it’s the consulate who says you should go to Portugal and apply – we’re just an agency”. Makes me wonder about how honest Travisa is about doing it’s job.
So we just met Mr. Manager. No dice. The consulate apparently is stuck with their “you must be a resident” requirement – even though their own rules clearly state that you don’t necessarily have to be a resident.
On top of this, I emailed the consul general and received a reply from one of the consuls saying the exact same thing. He also seemed to take particular pleasure in telling me our application was only submitted yesterday (what has that got to do with anything ? – besides being untrue because we’ve been planning this for over a month). There seems to be some kind of misunderstanding – either the San Francisco consulate is unaware of the visa guidelines presented on the travisa website or they simply refuse to look at an application for someone who isn’t a resident here. He basically said: You are a tourist, your wife is a tourist, you have no residence proof, so your application is incomplete.
I responded explaining our situation and also including the infamous Point #15 from the visa guidelines just so that they could take a look at it and tell me WHY OH WHY can we not get a visa here. Just for a recap, here’s Point #15:
15. Short Term Visa Holders: Applicants who are not citizens/residents of the USA and hold a tourist or other short-term visa for the USA should apply for Indian visas in the country of their permanent residence. In case of emergency or special circumstance, an application could be made at the Indian Embassy in Washington DC or Consulates General of India in the USA. In addition to the relevant visa fee there is a reference fee of $20.00 for reference to be made to the country of their original residence. Such cases have a minimum processing time of one to two weeks, and some cases may take longer. (Non US Citizens – Short Term Visa Holders Only)
At this point, I am announcing a $1,000 reward for anyone who can explain to me how you can be a tourist in the US and at the same time have proof of residence. Aren’t the two facts mutually exclusive ? (excluding the fact that you may own a mansion in Beverly Hills and have a utility bill to back that up, what about us regular folks ?) It appears that this distinction is getting very hard to make in this situation.
Either way, the same unreasonable response was received by Mr Hevert, that is actually the name of Mr Manager. He said that he went personally to the consulate and asked them to take another look at our application. Yet, they refused. They said “She must go to Portugal and apply”. It baffles me that the consulate of India in San Francisco takes no responsibility for it’s own guidelines that have been set out on the travisa website. Neither do they show any sort of humanity to Indian citizens by making such unreasonable declarations. Let me break down what they are asking us to do.
So far, we have a ticket on June 12th from Los Angeles to New Delhi India. This ticket is worth about $800. We’ve paid the Indian consulate $156 as visa fees. Now we have to (according to them) fly to Portugal to apply for Zara’s visa before we go to India. So here’s where we arrive with this:
1. $800×2 ticket to India.
2. $156 in visa fees (which they refuse to refund)
3. $970×2 – Cheapest flight to Portugal
4. $156 – fees for another visa
5. $512×2 – Flight from there to India
Grand total: $4,876!
I haven’t even included here the cost of coming to San Francisco and staying here, etc.
It’s baffling that the Indian Consulate in San Francisco doesn’t think that they are being at all unreasonable by asking us to go through this. Even when their rules clearly make an exception for special circumstances. Maybe they should delete the rule if they don’t want to follow it ?
We’re going to head to the consulate tomorrow but honestly I don’t have much hope considering the kind of responses I have seen from them so far. Wish us luck!
So, yesterday (8th May) we made our way to the consulate. We met a lady there at the counter who listened to our story. However, she’s not really authorized to do much and therefore said that she would need to ask the visa officer.
She went to the back to speak to him, and there was loud shouting. I’m not sure of why she was shouted at, but she was. She returned, couldn’t even look us in the eye and said “I’m sorry, you’ll have to go to Portugal, the Consul General himself has said No”.
Our hopes were dashed. I asked her “Can we please meet the visa officer and present our case to him in person ?” She said “No, he doesn’t want to meet you”.
This is shocking!
As an Indian citizen, do I not even have the right to meet the officers at my consulate ? Officers who decide my fate without giving me an opportunity to present my case to them in person ?
As an Indian citizen, I am really disappointed.
In the meanwhile, I got an email from one of the Consuls (the same one who had been in touch with us before) saying that he does not consider our case a special circumstance and that if Travisa had told us we could get the visa here, we should let him know, otherwise, the case is closed.
I sent him a detailed reply with all of our circumstances, from right before the wedding in India and also quoted inline all the emails I had sent Travisa seeking prior confirmation. We had made every effort to confirm our case with them before coming here.
To set the record straight, I had emailed Travisa 3 times asking if our application here will be accepted. I asked them if they could confirm with the consulate OR let us confirm directly (by sharing contact details). They did not reply to ANY of my emails. My first email was dated April 5th, the second April 10th and the third was sent on April 12th.
We also tried calling their helpline number (where we were put on hold for 40mins+ with no response) as well as the consulate phone number (where we never received a response).
Yesterday, out of sheer desperation I called consulates in different parts of the world to see if they could help us somehow. My idea was that when we finally fly back to India, we would transit air side and then go to another nearby country to process Zara’s entry permit. Of course, this will negatively impact the amount of time we can spend with family as well as increase costs for us tremendously but hey, that’s the situation we’re in.
I spoke to the consulates in Nepal, Thailand, Dubai, and Colombo. All of them agreed to process Zara’s visa even as a non-resident. However, the consulate in Panama refused. It appears that not all consulates have the same policy as the one here, and most are certainly not unreasonably strict about them.
I would obviously like to process Zara’s visa in the US. We got married here and it just makes sense. However, we’re up against a lot of opposition – the reasons for which are not completely clear to me, especially given the fact that it is a little bit their fault for not answering the phone or emails regarding this. In summary, they had more than ONE MONTH to tell us “Hey guys, don’t come here, we can’t do this for you.” Especially because we asked THREE times over email and many more over the phone.
The bottom line is that my wife has no way to enter my country upon our return to it.
Seems unfair, but I guess that’s life.
Update 6 (the last one for now..):
I didn’t receive a response from the consulate so I sent in a follow up email. They’ve just sent in a response saying that they cannot help. I simply replied saying that I understand that the answer is No but that it is unfair that Travisa took our money ($156) without confirming our situation with the consulate, especially as we had given ample opportunity to them (3 emails over a month ago) to confirm our situation.
It’s extremely sad that Indian citizens cannot rely on the consulate in San Francisco for help. Nor can we rely on them to clean up the incompetence that their chosen outsourcing agencies involve. In this case the consulate had all the power in the world to turn the situation around. Sure, some bad things have happened but ultimately consulates exist to help their citizens. We pay our taxes to keep them in their jobs and yet cannot expect much from them (at least in the US). Of course Mr. Hevert at Travisa laughed at me when I said that consulates exist to help their citizens. He also made fun of our marriage saying “You think you can just get married and then visit India ?” as if we were just kidding around. I’ve dealt a few times with VFS and BLS (in Dubai) but never come across such massive incompetence and disrespect.
Mr Hevert also told me “Ashray, we have two customers here, you and the consulate”. I wanted to correct him and tell him that “Hevert, you just have one customer. I, and other Indian taxpayers, pay for your other customer to hire you”.
Also, throughout this ordeal I have not met a single person with any amount of power or responsibility at the consulate. The whole establishment may as well be Fort Knox. They have refused to see us time and again. It’s no wonder that the lines for renunciation of citizenship are longer than all the other lines. Possibly as a matter of policy due to the population pressure in India.
Well, that’s where this matter ends in the US for us. We’ll let you know when we know where we are going to finally apply for Zara’s visa.
Time for us to look at alternatives.
Update: Read on to find out how we finally managed to get Zara’s visa for India.