The Saga of the Indian Visa – Part 1

Four years ago last December, I first experienced the soul-sucking spiral of confusion known as “visa issues” when I went to India to get my H1-B visa stamped in 2010. The US consulate in Chennai first denied me the visa for as flimsy a reason as the corner of my passport being bent. A few years later, now married, I got working on my Green Card and eventually received it in March 2011. One needs to be at least on GC for 3 years before they become eligible to apply for U.S. Citizenship through Naturalization. The earliest I could apply was in December 2013 and I did.

This all seemed well and good, except for the ironic hitch was that I would need a visa to travel to India. I became an American citizen on May 9 and received my passport 2 weeks later. I put together the documents for my India visa and sent it in by June 10, which gave me at least 4 weeks to get it back.

I sent in my visa application and my Indian citizenship renunciation application together, and you are required to send the fees for both those services at once. Since I was mailing the documents in via FedEx, I was supposed to make the fee payments online and send the receipts along.

One has to apply for Indian visa through a facilitator company in the US. Few years ago, there was a company called Travisa. Kathleen had applied for hers through them and she got hers back in 7-10 days. Indian consulates had switched the service to another company called BLS, possibly for lower costs, but there were many complaints about their service and the company losing people’s passports in the process. So, a new company was hired, Cox and Kings Global Services (CKGS).

My friend Gaurav Sabnis had applied through BLS but turned in his application by visiting their office rather than by mail. He had warned me about BLS’s poor track record. However, when it was my turn, the service was now provided by CKGS and I felt reasonably confident, and since I couldn’t find time to get out of work to travel to New York office, I sent it all by FedEx.

I made the online payment for my Visa, but for whatever reason I couldn’t do the same for my renunciation. I contacted CKGS and one of their customer reps informed my by email that I could send a cashier’s check along with the rest of the application documents. I sent it all in on June 10. FedEx tracking indicated that the documents were delivered to CKGS’s NYC office.

I received an email on June 15 that my application is in process but there was no payment for my renunciation. My heart sank immediately but then, via several phone calls and emails to their customer reps, I showed that I had sent in the renunciation payment as a cashier’s check. I called them every other day and their customer reps seemed to be going over the same stuff again and again with me, which indicated that they weren’t well coordinated and were highly disorganized.

After a week or so, CKGS customer reps told me that everything is in order and my application will be processed soon. I told that I am scheduled to travel on July 14 and I will need my passport back no later than July 11. As the week of July 6 rolled in, there was still no indication from CKGS that I was any closer to getting the visa and they weren’t able to give me any proper information. I even offered to travel to their NY office but their customer rep convinced me that they will sort it and will “escalate” my application and have it delivered to me by July 11. I must have made at least 2 dozen phone calls in these three weeks.

On July 10, I called them again and they said they would call me back within a couple of hours with all the correct information but that did not materialize. Around 10 PM, I received an email from CKGS’s Escalations Department that my application is on hold since they didn’t receive my renunciation fee!!! I now knew what Sisyphus must have felt like.

I called them again and the only thing the customer rep could tell me was that, with so little time available before the beginning of the world trip, I should just withdraw my visa application (and lose my money) and at least have the passport back to begin the travel and figure out a way to get Indian visa while being in U.K. That’s no good news since I had heard from ESPNcricinfo correspondent Peter Della Penna the major hassles he had to go through applying for an Indian visa in U.K. with an American passport.

The situation was further complicated because Kathleen and I were in the middle of cleaning and moving out of our apartment. Now, I had to leave all that and make trip to NYC to sort out the issue. Her parents and couple of my friends chipped in at the last moment as I had to leave her all by herself, fending for the both of us.

I rushed off, at that late hour, to the local Kinko’s and photocopied all the relevant documents, printed out all my email communications with CKGS. I left home at 3 AM, was dropped off at a train station by lovely wife, and reached Manhattan on July 11, Friday, at 8.30 AM.

Before I left town, Kathleen suggested that I take my grievances to Twitter. So I tweeted to @CoxandKingsUSA my problems and also solicited any help from the social media. Plenty of people offered encouragement, retweeting my request to find someone at the Indian consulate but a friend put me in touch with someone that actually could help. In the mean time, I tried to figure whether it indeed was possible to apply for Indian visa in U.K. but had mixed results from the Internet. I decided not to withdraw my visa application just yet, and wait till I get to speak to someone at CKGS office in New York.

They doors open at 9 AM. I had 30 minutes to get from NY Penn Station to their office, and I started to organize my thoughts about all the eventualities during the short cab ride.

Read Part 2

Part 2

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