Friday, 5 February 2010

Neither Here Nor There

I am back in India after three weeks spent in the UK (7th January to the 27th), not, I stress, for a holiday or recreational purposes. The break was as a result of what I term 'visa issues'. In light of the international fear of terrorism it is perhaps no surprise that I might come a-cropper of immigration control (by which I mean in general rather than myself being particularly suspect to terror issues). I am hoping to use this post to explain what I think happened and also to state to those inquiring, I have a new visa and it is valid for six months. That's right, six! It expires on 19th July 2010.

Since 9/11 there's obviously been a lot of attention given to the movement of people internationally, but the Indian visa system has only started to get extra strict in the past few months. In December the Indian government announced that people on tourist visas would be barred from the country for two months after the visa expired. This caused some outrage in the US and UK who were targeted with this rule and was covered by The Guardian and BBC News.

Whilst the media understandably focused on the impact on tourists, given that most foreign visitors to India are people going on holiday (almost 800,000 Britons a year according to government figures), a business visa was actually a major cause behind the troubles.

The Mumbai terror attacks on 26th November 2008 killed some 174 people, the Indian government and people were understandably a little shaken, especially when evidence seemed to suggest that the terrorists were from Pakistan, a neighbour that India has a disputed border with and has gone to war with three times since independence in 1947.

Things took a new turn, however, when it transpired that a citizen of the US (although of Pakistani origin) may also have been implicated in the attacks. David Headley apparently travelled to India several times to scout out targets for the attack. He travelled on a multiple-entry business visa.

Thus, partly owing to their large South Asian communities, both the US and UK were especially targeted by the crackdown. As it happens, when I came to apply for a visa I requested a 12 month multiple-entry business visa. Brilliant. I ended up being given a mere three month single-entry business visa. As The Guardian's article notes, almost in passing, 'India has already cracked down on business visas this year, informing thousands of holders that they must return to their home countries and prove that they meet much stricter criteria before new visas will be issued.' That's more or less what I was told at the FRRO (Foreigner Regional Registration Office).

I did, however, apply for my visa in early October before this all kicked off big time. So it is possible that my situation was completely unrelated. I say this for several reasons. At the FRRO I was told that the reason they weren't going to extend my visa was actually because the Mumbai office did not have the power to extend short-term (i.e. three month) business visas, only long-term (year long) ones. They claimed that Delhi would probably have the power - though not necessarily the inclination. This occurred eight days before my visa's expiry on 7th January.

When I later went back to the visa office in London the woman who served me said that if I applied for a business visa I would only get three months again. The reason for was actually because of my stated occupation: researcher and writer (yes, I'm claiming to be a writer!). Because this isn't a 'practical' profession I would get less time. At this point I started to stress the teaching that I've been doing as well. The woman seemed quite nice and said that she'd try and get me six months, but recommended an entry visa instead, which is geared more towards volunteering. Indeed, when I came to collect said visa that was what I was given, a six month 'X' visa. Happy days.

A final possibility may be the simple fact that I'd never been to the country before. I've heard multiple stories of people going to countries such as India for the first time and being given shorter visas that desired. On the return, or renewal of the visa, a longer duration is often given, perhaps because you can now be trusted having not caused any trouble the first time round.

In any case, the fact of the matter is I had to go back home and get a new one. I was unexpectedly and suddenly expelled (to an extent) from the country but am now back, yay! As my visa ends in mid July and I was only likely to stay until August anyway I shouldn't have any more problems. This is fortunate as I've been hearing many stories regarding visa issues elsewhere. A friend back in Swansea has had to return to Zambia and an Indian who works for Oasis India was rejected twice by the UK in applying for a visa (a particular issue as he's just got engaged to a UK citizen). What's more is that a number of people visiting from the UK on tourist visas who work for charities have been having to prove that they aren't coming out to do sneaky work behind the governments back. It's all a far cry from the more or less free border movements of yesteryear, well, yester-century anyway.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to hear you got your 6 month visa. That must be a big relief!