Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Indian visa fiasco

Yesterday morning I set out for the Consulate General of India in the Elmadağ district of Istanbul to submit my application for a tourist visa. After hopping a taxi since I wasn't familiar with this district, I found only minutes later that I could've easily walked from Taksim.

Photo courtesy of Jon Rawlinson

As Americans, many of us take for granted how easy the process normally is for us to enter or acquire visas for other countries with our Holy Book -- the US passport. I breezed through security, confidently telling the guard that I was headed up to the Hindustan Konsolosluk. He smiled and directed me up to the 7th floor.

I rang the bell next to the consulate door, which struck me as very residential, and was promptly buzzed in. A middle-aged Indian woman welcomed me, asked what my nationality was, handed me number 13 (was this another omen?), and directed me to wait with the assortment of mainly Turks and two Brits.

As I waited she came over and handed me a verification form for non-Turkish applicants. I had all the other paperwork prepared. After waiting another 15 minutes or so the woman returned and inquired as to my nationality once again. When I told her again, she beckoned me over, saying, "You will need a letter of recommendation from the US Consulate with your application." A letter of recommendation? This wasn't something that had appeared on the list of requirements on their Web site. Since I knew the Indian Consulate only accepted apps. between 9:30 and 11:30 am, there would be no way to get all the way across town to the US Consulate in Istinye, get the letter and return to this consulate in time. Then the woman reminded me that tomorrow was a Turkish holiday, and thus they would be closed. I inquired as to why this letter didn't appear on the list on the consulate's Web site, and she just shrugged and replied that it is something they require.

Feeling a bit frustrated, I ran down the seven flights of stairs and took the long ride to Istinye and the US fortress on the hill, a building that I have for the most part been able to avoid for the past three years. When I arrived, I took in the snaking line of mostly Turks waiting at the entrance. After doing a passport flash, I was told to wait at the front of the line (feeling the icy stares at my back from those who had been waiting for who knows how long). In minutes I made it to the little room for American citizen services. When my number came up, I went up and told the woman what I needed. She gave a rather grim smile and told me she would give me an affidavit to fill out since they don't provide such letters. She said the Consulate of India had been problematic with giving visas to Americans.

I filled out the affidavit, basically just stating that I was applying for a visa and that my purpose for travel was tourism. I asked the woman if I should add anything else and she replied that what I had was fine. After shelling out $30 I was called up by a redheaded man and performed my swearing with the right hand raised to the truth of this statement. He explained that the Consulate of India has been making it difficult for Americans to obtain visas by requesting a letter that the US Consulate can officially not provide. He then handed me a letter for some further history on the matter, dated from November 1995. Here's an excerpt that sums up the official stance (with a strong dose of attitude) of the US on the issue:

The possession of a United States passport by the individual named therein is proof of that person's citizenship and of the fact that United States Government has no objection to the travel of that citizen outside of the United States. Neither this Embassy nor Consulate in Adana or Consulate General in Istanbul will provide additional documentation or statements to private American Citizens stating that the United States Government has no objection to travel.

So my own consulate had just provided me with a form for 30 bucks that they knew would not suffice for the Indian Consulate. And I was seemingly caught up in the midst of some longstanding row between the two. The redhead handed over my useless form and wished me luck, also noting that other countries' consulates are beginning the same practice, such as Saudi Arabia. Luckily not on my travel list this time.

After this I headed back to Taksim and did a search to find similar stories. Here's a sample of what I found:

Indian Tourist Visa in Turkey (for Americans in Istanbul)

The Indian visa saga

Hell gets hotter

So now, what to do? No time to head to Ankara as these bloggers recommend. I've got court here on Thursday and the process in Ankara is said to take at least 4 business days. I leave for Nepal on Wednesday.

Tomorrow I will return to the Dortler Apartments, No: 18, with all my papers, including the useless affidavit, I will summon all the politeness and charm in my being and I will wrangle that visa from their hands. At least, that's the plan...

1 comment:

renai said...

Oh Devi. What a pain. How did you do in the end? Hope you had some luck.