Yesterday I went to the Indian Embassy to apply for a tourist visa to India because my family and I have decided to go to India during my winter break. I am super excited to see a completely different culture, travel around the country and most importantly visit my friend Emily is volunteering in an orphanage in Mumbai.
After reading the Indian embassy website multiple times, it appeared that the application was simple enough. Anyone going into India needs a visa, even if one is just stopping over on layover. In order to apply for the visa, you need to fill out the simple two page application, provide three passport photos, have your passport and pay the corresponding fee. This seemed simple enough. I did not need additional documentation, no appointment was required, and I did not encounter any horror stories on the web about transactions with the Indian embassy in Spain.
When applying for a visa, you must relinquish your passport for one week and because I will need my passport for travel and to finalize my paperwork to get a residency card I wanted to get the visa application over. You must apply between the hours of 9-12:30 so I can only apply on Mondays when I have my day off. I got to the embassy at 9 am and figured I may have to stand in line for a while but that the process couldn’t be too difficult. Boy was I was wrong!
When you arrive, you must take a number. There are two separate numbering systems: one for Indian nationals and one for everyone else. The problem is that there is only one person who helps all non-Indians so if someone holds up the line with a complicated application no one moves forward. Twice while I was waiting, an individual took over forty minutes to file their application.
The nice thing about taking a number is that you don’t have to stand in a strict line, instead you are able to mingle and wait inside or outside which is key because I think some people would start a riot if they were not able to smoke while waiting for their number to be called.
After waiting about an hour and realizing the only seven people had been seen I began to get nervous and realize my number would probably never be called. I had number 78 and they were only on number 14 by 10:30. Furthermore, posted on all the walls are signs saying they stop taking applications at 12:30 and that the numbers are not good for the following day which means you can wait all day and never be seen and have to start all over the next day. At this point, I started talking and listening to other people’s conversations. Multiple people informed me that the consulate only sees about 40 people a day and that they realize the process is inefficient but they do not care because the Spanish consulate in India is so bad they are trying to get back at the Spanish government by running a horrible embassy in Spain.
When I asked what time one needs to arrive at the embassy to get a “good” number and to be assured one will be seen, I was told to arrive by 4 am and that the person with number 1 had arrived at 6 pm the previous night. While I have heard crazy stories about people having to camp out at embassies in order to get their visas, I was shocked and not looking forward to coming back a second time.
To make matters more complicated, there are companies that will apply for the visa for you. They charge a large fee but you don’t have to deal with the hassle of going to the embassy. This complicates things because with each number a person can bring up one visa application for themselves or he/she can bring up 100 applications for others. This means that one person can hold up the line for a long time and it also leads to a lot of side business being conducted at the embassy.
While waiting in line, I met 5 different people who worked for companies that helped individuals get their visas. While these employees had been given a set number of applications to apply for, the employees also conduct side business in which they inform those who are waiting what number they have and that they are willing to take their application up with them if they pay an extra fifty euros. Because all of these transactions are conducted in Spanish and I did not know any of these employees, I did not want to pay someone some extra money and give them my passport. While I knew what was going on, I was nervous about losing my passport and I didn’t want to pay any extra money.
The employees who take on the extra applications pocket the money but they also ask for the ticket number of the individual. This leads to black market for the numbers. Because no one is standing in line, it is hard to tell if anyone cuts and no one enforces any rules stating the person who takes the ticket must be the person to use it. Thus, I saw one man walk in around 10 am but he either knew someone or paid someone to get a low number ticket.
By 10:30 I realized my number was never going to be called but I didn’t know whether I should leave. I had nothing else to do all day and I was not sure when I could come back to the embassy. I decided to stick around to see if maybe someone would give up and leave and possibly give me their ticket.
At 12:30 the embassy was still packed and there no way they could close without having a riot on their hands. Each person who was seen after 12:30 breathed a sigh of relief that they had been helped. By this time they were serving number 50 but still very far away from my number 78. At this point, I had waited almost half a day and decided that I was going to stand and wait until someone would help me or until I was removed from the building. This strategy paid off. A nice lady with number 55 told me I could go up with her. Luckily the agent at the window did not care that this lady was applying for a work visa and I was applying for a tourist visa and that we were clearly not connected. Thus, at 1:30 an hour after closing, I submitted my application. Now all I have to do is go back next Monday to pick it up in the afternoon. I have been told the pick up process is a lot smoother and that you do not have to wait long but I am not holding my breath.