Bring India, Britain visa fees at par (Special)May 26th, 2008 - 11:05 am ICT by admin
By Kul Bhushan
Non-resident Indians in Britain pay half for their visas to visit India as compared to Indians for their visas to visit Britain. So when British NRIs stand in long queues, wait for hours or face rude officers, they can console themselves that they are paying 30 pounds ($59.27) while their Indian cousins are paying 65 pounds for a six-month tourist visa.
An Indian NRI in Britain pays 90 pounds for a five-year, multiple-entry visa to visit India while an Indian pays 205 pounds for any of the one-year, two-year, five-year or ten-year visas to visit Britain.
India is now the third largest foreign investor in Britain in terms of projects, second only to the US and Japan. So Indian businessmen have to obtain long-term visas and pay more than British businessmen, who pay 30 pounds for a six-month visa, 50 pounds for a one-year visa and 90 pounds for a two-year visa.
British leaders on goodwill missions to India underline the special and cordial relationship between the two countries. This should be reflected in the visa fees as well, for around 400,000 Indians visit Britain and almost an equal number of Britons visit India every year. What’s more, Indian tourists are the highest spenders in Britain.
British NRIs frequently moan about the long queues to get their visas at India House in central London. They line up much earlier than the 9.30 a.m. opening time - sometimes they come as early as 6 a.m. before getting a numbered chit to get in if they are ready with a duly filled form and all other requirements - passport, photos and fees. They wait inside to be called at the counter.
About 20 counters accept their applications as the chit numbers are flashed on a digital screen when a counter is free.
Once the application is accepted, a receipt is given and the applicant waits before the visa is stamped on the passport. The waiting room, always crowded, has a tea/coffee vending machine and an adjoining toilet.
The waiting period can be just 45 minutes or up to 4 p.m. Of course, the applicant can go out for a break to enjoy the charms of central London and return before closing time to check for the visa or return the next day.
Normally, a tourist visa is issued on the same day or the next. Long term visas, medical visas, student visas and employment visas may take longer.
An estimated 800 or more visas are issued during every working day. Indian consulates in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow also issue visas. Postal visa applications take a minimum of 15 working days, and even longer, during the peak season for processing.
In summer, the low season for British travellers to India, this procedure is comfortable, but during the high season in dreary, freezing and rainy winters, it can become an ordeal especially when you queue up at 6 a.m. and have to leave your home a couple of hours early to arrive there.
Travelling by car, all motorists pay eight pounds Congestion Charges plus 15 to 20 pounds for parking. For the old and retirees it pinches more as they cannot benefit from their free passes for the public transport system.
Nalini, who visits this office almost every week to obtain medical visas, said that the system is “quite efficient” but, sometimes, people come out in tears when the officers are rude and throw away the application papers. She blames heavy workload for that.
Brij Raj, another applicant, said that it is high time that the procedure was streamlined by contracting this operation to experienced private sector agencies.
He said it is ironical that India provides massive “back office” services to so many major British companies and organisations, yet the Indian mission has not computerised this system. Now visa applicants can take heart that plans are afoot to do just that in the near future.
Yet the disparity in visa fees remains. About 15 years or so, Britain raised its visa fees and India was forced to follow suit. British NRIs protested very strongly claiming that for a family to visit India, the outlay on visa applications becomes a huge amount, thus pressurising the Indian government to reduce visa fees.
But the tourist visa is still more than double what it charges. Now if an Indian family has to visit Britain, it has to pay double the amount their friends or relatives pay in Britain to visit India.
With India becoming a major investor in Britain now, why should an Indian businessman visiting Britain pay over double that a British businessman pays for visiting India?
Today, there is ample justification to align these charges to demonstrate that when Prime Minister Gordon Brown says that Britain and India are “equal partners”, his government practises this in visa fees.
(Kul Bhushan previously worked abroad as a newspaper editor and has travelled to over 55 countries. He lives in New Delhi and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)