Saturday, February 7, 2015

My India visa saga

None of the four previous posts about my time in India at the American School of Bombay would have been possible if I did not get an Indian visa. It was far harder than I anticipated.

On 11/3/14, at 2:06 p.m., I arrived at the company to which the Indian embassy outsources the process. I remember the date and time only because I was greeted by a sign on the door: “Effective 11/3/14, we will not accept visa applications after 2 p.m.” Off to an auspicious start.

Later that month, I dropped off the paperwork. I was told the process takes 3-5 days. My departure date: 1/16/15. Plenty of time.

Slight snag: they flagged that I indicated my occupation was “writer.” They said the embassy would therefore consider me a journalist. I explained that I was not and never have been. They said “Even if you published only one poem 20 years ago, they will consider you a journalist.” It’s like logic itself
tried to enter a country without a visa and was indefinitely detained.

On 12/19/14, after seeing no updates online and being unable to reach them by phone, I went back to the office. An employee said he’d personally check with the embassy and call me back.

No call came. So on 12/30/14, I did—back to the visa company. The employee who said he’d get back to me instead went to India.

A partial email trail of what happened next:



Any luck with the embassy regarding case number x and my booked business trip to India, departing January 16?

Thank you again for your kind help.


visa company:

Thank you for your inquiry. I am expecting to receive word today regarding the issuance of your visa. I will contact you by 5:00 PM. Please note that you case is considered active by me.


Good morning and thank you so, so much. I really appreciate your fast attention. If we know by 5 pm it will put my mind at ease!

visa company:

Unfortunately your visa has not been issued and is continuing to be processed at the embassy. I will be sure to inform the Unit Manager, who has been copied on this mail, of your case and we will continue to monitor closely due to your upcoming date. Thank you and have a wonderful weekend.  Please be assured that we will continue to work hard for a positive resolution.


Thank you for the update.

Online travelers are instructed to apply for a visa no sooner than three months before departure date, and I did just that (starting the process in October). I also had no choice but to book my flight already; as a seasoned traveler, I never dreamed there would be any issue with obtaining a visa for India. As you can see from my application, I am NOT a journalist nor have I ever been. I write books for children and am invited to speak at schools around the world. In this case, I have been invited to work with the students at the American school in Mumbai for 10 days. We have been planning this for more than a year. The entire school is counting on me being there.

This delay is making me extremely nervous. I am supposed to leave two weeks from today and next week the only day that I am able to come pick up my visa is Tuesday January 6. Then I must go out of state for four days. Then I am back but that is the week of my departure.

I must know before that if all will be okay or else the school (not to mention me) will be put in a bad position.

Is there anything I can do?



Hope you had a pleasant weekend. Only briefly checking in to see if there’s any chance of picking up my visa tomorrow? Again, as the inviting letter in my application packet indicates, I have been invited to the school to teach writing to children.

visa company:

I regret to inform you that at this time the embassy has reconfirmed that they are currently processing your visa application. They have not provided any more additional information regards this case.


Thank you. I am at a loss with this situation. If there is any issue that is holding up the application, I would appreciate the courtesy of being told immediately so I have time to correct it. I am scheduled to work with hundreds of students starting next week and cannot leave this to chance.

Also, as mentioned, I will be gone four days. Therefore, I need to pick up the visa tomorrow; considering I submitted the completed application packet in November, I don’t believe this is asking too much. Can you please ask your embassy contact if it will be possible to have it ready tomorrow, or at the least, ask for the courtesy of more information?

visa company:

I can understand your anxiety at this time. The embassy has not requested any information from you. Please know that upper management is involved and I would ask that you allow them to interface with the embassy in order to come to a resolve.


Thank you for your understanding.

I realize this is not entirely in your hands, but if there is anything you can do to have the visa ready for pickup tomorrow, I will be extremely grateful to you.

visa company:

May I ask a question? If you are not traveling until 1/16/2015, why is a pick-up of 1/6/15 so relevant? I would like to understand your point.


Thanks. I am happy to elaborate:

I do not live or work daily in the city. I am going to be downtown tomorrow but then not again before I am supposed to leave on 1/16.

Also, I am not being given a guarantee that I will be issued a visa in time. If you could guarantee that now, I would not be so worried and I would figure out a way to pick it up next week, though that would be a considerable inconvenience, especially since I submitted my application with plenty of time AND have come twice to try to pick up the visa after seeing no change on the site and having no luck reaching a human being by phone. Lastly, I’m also concerned that the embassy may suddenly ask for more info while I am out of town, meaning I cannot get it to them till the week of my trip.

I am just not used to cutting things so close, especially with international business travel—and I travel a lot.

visa company:

Thank you for the explanation. If your visa is approved, we do have courier service and it would arrive next day. I will stay in touch with you.


“If” my visa is approved is alarming...what is the possibility that this visa will not be approved?

visa company:

I have a meeting tomorrow with the Embassy and will get back to you post-lunch. I will surely look into this personally.

Just to keep you posted, have already reminded about your case to them.



Thank you so much. I really appreciate your urgent attention to this.

visa company:

I am writing to share that we will have a definitive answer regarding your case, today from the embassy by 4:30 PM. I will reach back out to you at that time.

MTN (after 4:30):

I was awaiting a response by 4:30 pm, as you’d indicated. I hope you have positive news?

visa company:

At this time your application for visa is still under process and there will not be another status update until the embassy has received the clearance from India. 


Thank you for writing.

I turned in my application, as directed, in November. After weeks of no update, I came to your office on 12/19 and [name] said he would get back to me the following day; he did not. Since then, there has been no update and no explanation as to what is holding up the process.

I have followed your rules. I have been patient. I have appreciated your efforts. But it has gotten me nowhere. So now at this late stage, I hope you understand that I need a guarantee that I will get a visa in time. Is this something you can do?

My departure date is only 9 days away. This is not a casual trip; this is an involved schoolwide work engagement that the inviting party has been planning for more than a year. I need to be respectful of the school who is expecting me. Does the embassy understand that an entire school is counting on me being there? Do they understand that I cannot wait till the day before to know if I will or will not be issued a visa?


visa company:

Have you received the correspondence delivered by Embassy to you last evening? Many sincere apologies. I can share my sentiment of hoping that the needed clearances are obtained in time for your trip. I will work with our internal Upper Management moving forward on addressing some of the follow up issues which you have cited in your email involving the staff.

As for now please be reminded that we are a vendor for the Indian Embassy. The discretion is based on that of the government to issue visas. The first line of our disclaimer states the following:

“Please note that acceptance of an application is no evidence of approval of your application. Dispatch / return / collection of documents does not imply that your application is granted. The approval of your application is the sole prerogative of the Embassy / Consulate.”

Our team will be the first to notify you once an approval has been obtained. Again, many apologies that at this time we do not have a more fruitful reply.


Thank you for your continued empathy.

I did receive a nonspecific message from the embassy last night. Is it possible for you to simply give me the courtesy of telling me what “further clearance” means so I can help resolve this process?


P.S. On the one hand, travelers are instructed to apply for the visa within three months of intended departure date. On the other, we are instructed not to book travel until the visa is granted. But here I am about a week from departure with no visa. If I had waited to book my flight, at this late date the cost would be prohibitively expensive, if there were even seats at all. Who can wait till the very last minute to book international travel?

Later that day, the company called and said my visa was ready.

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