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Visa Woes

Applying for travel visas is commonly a humiliating experience. Consulates and foreign missions, oddly, seem to work at cross purposes with their own tourist authorities and commercial sections. Typical of government bureaucracies, one arm spends resource encouraging foreign visitors and the other actively discourages it. Anglo-Saxon nations, such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are thankfully more prudent in their conduct. Schengen countries, on the other hand, set the benchmark on what constitutes unacceptable behaviour.

The application process is cumbersome, time consuming and documentation requirements would surpass even stringent judicial investigation. Electricity and phone bills, invitation letters, pre-issued airline tickets and very confidential information such as bank statements are often followed by demands of personal interviews, even for frequent business travellers, with complete disregard to commonsense. It is a small wonder that people are yet willing to travel despite the anguish.

Schengen countries rarely issue multiple entry visas that are valid for a year or two, other than for employees of large multinational corporations. One needs to apply each time one travels and usually a two month permit is hesitantly sanctioned. This takes time, effort and the loss of another precious page in a frequent traveller’s passport. It is hard to comprehend as to what the fuss is about. Business executives working in India are unlikely to ‘slip away’ overseas and eventually resurface as taxi drivers or behind a push-cart selling hotdogs. In most instances their earning power in India is several multiples of what common people make in Europe. It stands to reason, therefore, that visa sections of various European countries behave arrogantly, simply to be awkward.

It cannot be that hard to draw some simple guidelines which show consideration to business travellers and family holiday makers. A simple examination of a passport will make amply clear, even to an examiner of limited aptitude, whether a certain application is genuine with no malicious intent. A heavily stamped passport for instance is indication enough of a frequent business traveller. But the process of issuing visas is steeped in the suspicion that if it’s an Indian who is applying, it’s bound to be driven by a hidden agenda different to the obvious.

Over the past twenty years India’s standing has gone up several notches in the pecking order. Economic growth created personal wealth that enables people to travel and spend their own money. Indian businesses are large and powerful and capable of foreign acquisitions. Fascinatingly, Indian investment overseas is now a sizeable fraction of foreign investment into India. Indian executives and businessmen in several instances earn much more than their overseas counterparts. Therefore, there can be no justifiable reasons for misgivings on grounds of economic considerations, by foreign missions, towards the clearance of travel documents. There are enough examples of ill-treatment and humiliation, to sink a ship, but this article will highlight a recent episode that could fittingly be placed in comical columns in newspapers had it not been pathetic. The wife of an Indian industrialist seeking to accompany her husband to France on a business trip was required by the French Consulate to file a marriage certificate – an odd request after 20 years of marriage, dozens of previous trips to Paris, first class travel and frequent stays at the legendary George V hotel. Understandably, the couple cancelled their visit. This cannot be good for the manner in which France is perceived.

Habitually, foreign visitors to India complain of bureaucratic inconveniences that they face when applying for travel permits to India. Local business associations of foreign companies frustratingly complain to Indian authorities to simplify the process. Cynical as it may sound, the inaction on the part of Indian authorities could at a stretch seem defensible. Reciprocity, it seems, sets the tone of all international relations and business – much to the detriment of business and leisure travellers.

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