The experiment of the Indian embassy in the US in outsourcing visas is more than six weeks old and is overcoming its initial problems. Users still give it mixed reviews, but are generally positive. “Overall it’s getting better, especially when compared to what it used to be like,” says Ranjit Singh, a small businessman in Virginia, getting a visa for his daughter.
The Indian embassy in Washington, with its consulates across the US, had announced on October 1 that it had outsourced its visa operations to a local US firm, Travisa. This seems to have had two motives. One, to improve the notoriously complicated and inefficient Indian visa system. Two, to use it to weaken the arguments of anti-outsourcing critics in the US.
There were numerous complaints about the new visa process when it began. “Any new system will have teething problems,” said Rahul Chhabra, the Indian embassy press officer. “But the embassy monitors the process daily and the ambassador takes a close personal interest.” Some complaints still find an echo today, but users generally give it a thumbs-up.
Greg Haymon has been pursuing a five-year business visa for a week and has been told at the visa pickup centre it would take four more days. “The problem is if there is an error, they cancel your file number and you have to start all over again,” he said. However, this power generator salesman says: “This is my third Indian visa. Before, it was much worse. Now you can apply online and track it on the web.”
Jan Dvorak, president of Travisa, admits there were hiccups. “You have to remember we only had 38 days to put up a system in five cities and we had to test-run it during the peak travel season,” he said. The single biggest problem, he says, was the lack of time to educate the Indian-American community about the new system. “Many people initially complained they did not realise they could apply online.”
Sarel Kromer, an American on her first trip to India, had no complaints. “I think the new system is just wonderful. I can remember what is was like before – my nephew once applied years ago and they just lost his passport. No one could find it. Online tracking makes it so much better.” She’s off to attend a friend’s wedding in New Delhi next week.
Navjeet Kaur, an Indian-American off to study at Manipal Institute of Higher Learning missed her flight because the visa clerks were not clear how long it would take for the process to be completed.
One complaint almost everyone had was that telephoning the visa office was an exercise in patience, sometimes futility. “No one picks up the line or the voicemail is full,” said a doctor who had gotten a tourist visa. Dvorak says more telephone lines and personnel had been added. “It shouldn’t be happening now.”
Though his company has been in the visa business since 1981 and his clients include Chrysler and American Express, he said his firm had never handled such volumes before: over 350,000 visas a year.