Feb 25, 2006

Visa Fiasco

Many of you might have heard the news on the problems with issue of U.S. Visa to Prof. Goverdhan Mehta, former Director of IISc. He was asked to attend the interview at the Chennai embassy and then told that his answers were not satisfying to warrant issue of Visa. The staff at the embassy had no clue about him obviously. Though it came as a shocking news, it was not all that 'totally-unexpected'. After the nuclear tests in 1998, some prominent Indian scientists such as Dr. Chidambaram were denied U.S. visa. Post 9/11, the situation has arguably worsened, as some of you might have experienced.

Yesterday, one of the senior faculty members, Prof. Ken Wagener, talked to me about it and sincerely apologized, as an American, for the injustice caused to an Indian scientist. He need not have done that, and it showed how hurt he was at the proceedings. Prof. Mehta was slated to visit our University (as an invited and distinguished Professor) and then attend a major Chemistry meeting at the end of March. Now, even though his visa has been granted, thanks to some high-profile involvement, he has cancelled his visit.

IMHO, it is high time that scientists beyond a certain level have to be treated differently when the Visa norms are considered. The people at the embassy are not experts in all the areas of science and technology to judge and analyze upon the quality and value of a scientist. A little homework from their part can surely prevent this kind of mishap.

I was one of those affected by such Visa problems. I was initially supposed to join Tech. Univ. of Eindhoven in the Netherlands, in a group which is arguably the best on this planet to work on polymers. Dutch visa, as far as I know, is the most difficult Visa to get. Too many procedures and norms for comfort. For those from developing countries, it requires a original birth certificate, duly attested at the highest possible place. I paid several visits to Madurai and Chennai (the secretariate) to get my birth certificate verified and stamped.

The visa form is 18 pages long, with info (D.O.B. and place of birth) required on my parents, kins, uncles, aunts, grandfathers, grandmothers, our school education history from class 1, etc. It required calling everyone of them (over 25, scattered all over India) and getting the info. At last, I went to attend the interview in Mumbai. Then came the shock of my life. They had introduced a new rule just a few days before, which required that the certificates with 'initials' will not be accepted. As a South Indian with no family name or surname and only the first letter of father's name as the initial, I had all my certificates with initials on it. The new rule meant that I would have to run pillar-to-post in the slow-working government offices of City corporation, collector's office, secretariate and even High court, to get my name changed.

I realized that it would take atleast 6-7 months to get the visa, so I, in a moment of rage, applied to my supervisor here, who was my Ph.D. supervisor's friend and our collaborator, and I was lucky enough to get a position. Within 6 weeks from then, my visa was ready. That experience with Dutch visa left a sore note, and I decided to never apply for it again. The government's policies are taken without considering the scientific community, and thus a scientist is treated the same way as an illiterate. High time it changes.


Anand Prabhu said...

it should have been a quiet annoying experience... The visa porcedures for F1 students have also become too stringent....

GOK, when things will be ok... bad hear about the rejection for an indian scientist....

kaushik said...

its very sad that people of such high calibre and repute come under such a scanner. there was kamal hassan and then somenath chatterjee who refused to go. The last case, of the scientis is because he had expertise in chemistry, and thus could have been a threat to the security concerns of america is such bullshit.

For students also it is quite a pain. The section 222G, supposedly is there to stop potential terrorists from getting into US. and my frnd nearly missed going to the US, because his visa got delayed by a month as he was going to the US to a phd in chemistry

mitr_bayarea said...


That was quite an eye-opener post. Didn't know the specifics until you explained it out. Yes, the visa system for coming to the US must definitely be more carefully looked at. As you rightly said, the embassy staff have no clue about scientists or important personnel.

Even for tourist visas these days, looks like they are asking too many questions like how do you plan to tour in US if your son/daughter works, what kind of public transportation will you use etc....

My parents are going for their visa next week and i am only praying that they get theirs successfully.

Paurna said...

something totally unrelated.ur local weather pic is "eating" into the page.

Me too said...

I too read about it in the news. "A little homework from their part can surely prevent this kind of mishap" - You are absolutely right.
Last year my Uncle's family went thro' an ordeal just b'cos he worked for MAPS in Kalpakkam(he was not even in the technical division!).
I have often heard about the tougher European Visa process. But the timing of the 'initials' rule in your case is so unfortunate.

Raju said...

Anand, it was a terrible experience, indeed. Those few months were literally torturous. The guys in Madurai city corporation wouldnt do anything without Vitamin-M.. That was the time when JJ had fired the employees on strike; but that made no difference. I could get my work done only by paying hundreds of rupees. Same case with Bangalore Secretariate too (Vidhana Soudha).

And, when I visited Madurai to change my name, the guy who was 'Vitamin-M lover' was suspended, so there was a deadlock in the whole process. Others wont do his work simply; all were united. What a shame.. It was a morale-shattering experience.
Kaushik, everyone boarding a flight is thoroughly checked and suspicious ones get interrogated. The worst thing is that the rules keep changing every now and then, and one always has to keep track of them at the websites.

That Prof. Mehta was asked about his Ph.D. work done 40 years ago is downright silly. There seems to be no sense in the approach of some of the embassy staff.

Raju said...

Mitr, I was in Delhi Dutch consulate for some enquiry when I witnessed a case. An old lady from Punjab, who was visiting her son over there, was asked for the document pertaining her son's owning his house. She was asked to contact him, make him fax the necessary document and come back later. She was in tears. What bad she would do to the security of their country-God only knows.

Good luck to your parents' visa process. Hope everything goes smoothly.
Paurna, Oops... there was a small glitch after the width was reduced. Hope it is OK now; otherwise I need to revert to the old size.
Aparna, bad to hear about your uncle's family case. Earlier, these staffs had to explain the rejection cases quite seriously; I doubt whether it is there with the same force now. Another bad thing is, the approval of visa highly depends on the individuals in the embassy; there are some notoriously (in)famous for their rejections in each embassy. Such kinds of inequalities are terrible; I saw so many were profusely sweating in the A/C room, anxiously praying that they dont get the worst person. What a pity!!

Paurna said...

things are fine now raju.

as for the visa fiasco.i dont know much bout the procedures but once my aunt went to the USA twice with a span of a year or two and hence the second time she was given a tourist visa only for 3 months.it seems the officials were quite hostile towards her and this had a deepressing effect on my aunt who decided never ever to go to the us again.

Anonymous said...

it's really amazing/awful that someone would start changing their name for a visa!

Raju said...

Paurna, thanks for pointing it out.

The procedures are complicated. I have heard many others have similar experiences as your aunt. It is something thats gotta be fixed soon.
Anon, well.. though it is change of name, it is a bit different. When you apply for a passport, usually you get a name with first and last names, no matter what your school certificates say. In birth certificates, which are operated at local places (like Tahsildar office, or City corporation or municipal office), the name appears as how a parent wants it to be. In the traditional way, they chose my way like that. While my initial has to be extended, it involves a literal 'change of name', which can be done by getting a court affidavit and get some certificate from some doctor or gazetted officer. A painful process