London mission says goodbye to snaking visa queues

May 28th, 2008 - 9:37 am ICT by admin  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, May 28 (IANS) The Indian High Commission in London - among the busiest of diplomatic missions - bids a cheery farewell Thursday to snaking queues, complaints of graft and grumpy customers surrounding its visa section. For as of Thursday, the task of issuing visas to Britons wishing to visit India will be outsourced to the world’s largest company handling such work - fittingly an Indian firm.

To many of the estimated half a million Britons who visit India every year, the move could not have come a day sooner - inefficiency at the Indian visa section in London is legendary, and a security staff was roughed up by an annoyed female applicant earlier this year.

Launching the first of five visa offices to be opened across Britain, India’s new High Commissioner Shiv Shankar Mukherjee said Tuesday the new facilities would enable people to apply online and obtain a visa without even having to turn up at the offices.

“The person who needs to travel to India is the most important customer we have,” Mukherjee said, describing the Indian mission in London as “easily the largest visa-issuing mission India has.”

Offices are to be opened at two locations in central London, another in Southall - a London suburb with a large ethnic Indian population - and two more in the cities of Birmingham and Edinburgh.

The work will be handled by VFS Global, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the travel company Kuoni India handling 10 million visa applications for 23 missions in 42 countries.

Starting out with about 75 employees, the company will conduct a review later this year and open more offices if needed, an official said.

The application of new technologies means visa applications can be made online, paid for by credit cards and can be tracked at each stage of the process because they will be bar-coded, Mukherjee said.

“These should help remove hassles, apprehension and suspense,” he added.

Other than the 500,000 visas that are granted to Britons, the High Commission’s consular section also deals with another 110,000 applications from people with overseas Indian citizenship every year.

The offices will have longer opening hours than the Indian diplomatic mission and visas can be sent by mail, saving applicants from distant towns and cities time and money, said a VSF Global executive.

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