Thursday, 15 May 2014

Submitted India visa application

I finally submitted the visa applications for India for Kavita and myself today. I can't believe this process is finally over. It feels like I went and wrote exam papers for two days straight.

As you know, I first went to submit the visa application back in April but the centre told me that I needed to submit an original sponsorship certificate! I also needed to translate my NIC card and, also submit a copy of my landline bill. I had to ask my friend to send the attested sponsorship certificate in the mail which took 3 weeks to arrive. I was half ready to give up and, start making moves to go back as intended mid May. The original plan was to be away from Liberia for 3 months during which I would visit haresh's family in Dubai, re-connect with my own family in Pakistan and make a trip to India. You would think 3 months would be enough to do all this.

But the certificate arrived from my dear friend and, I decided to submit the visa application after all and, extend my trip if need be.

I spent 2 days at the Gerry's office in F-9 Markaz or commonly known as Karachi Company. The first day, I went without Kavita early in the morning. I knew I had to get my NIC (National Identity Card) translated so that would take time. I also intended on making photocopies of mine and Kavita's passports and, submit only copies. You can do that for the India visa application. It can take up to 8 weeks for the visa processing. 

I got there bright and early. There are lots of fellows near the centre who ask the visitors whether you need any help at all with the online visa application form, with photocopying, and, anything else. I asked one of them if he could translate my NIC card for me. Sure, enough, he directed me to his office close to Gerry's. It seems there are so many little businesses who complement this 'visa industry.' This fellow quickly translated my card. He had a form already made. And, he got the passports quickly copied too. Everything in total cost me 300 rupees! That's $ 3.00, folks!

So, I entered the centre. I surrendered my mobile phone and got a token for it. I also got a separate token for the queue system. 

I was ushered into a reception area where when your token was called, you presented your documents for 'checking.' I had to wait about 30 minutes until my token number was called. The fellows at the reception desk asked me where I was applying to, why I was going and so onHe checked all my documents and, then asked me to go upstairs to the 3rd floor. 

I get there and, there's that generic waiting hall that one is so accustomed to in banks and visa centres. The waiting hall has the main booths, the passport collection counter, the cash counter and the bio-metrics booths. This is standard now for all the visa centres, it seems. These visa centres are companies to which diplomatic missions have outsourced their visa application submission process to. 

In Islamabad, you can submit your visa either at the Gerry's visa centre in Karachi Company or at TCS in Aabpara Market. Since Karachi Company is closer to my house, that's where I went. 

So, I mentally prepare myself for a long wait and, pull out the book I have brought with me. I ended up sitting there for an hour until my token number was called. I go up and, the fellow starts 'checking' my visa application form. It is a form that was filled online

He points out an error. I had entered "Chicago" as Kavita's city of birth on the application while her passport mentions "Illinois" as her place of birth. He said the Embassy wouldn't accept it. I look at him incredulously and, then pointed out that Chicago was in fact in Ilinois. He said, he could not accept the application. I started to really get annoyed. I first told him that the online application asks for city of birth and, hence, I put in "Chicago." The guy brushed me off. Then, I told him that his colleagues had gone through my whole application downstairs already. So, why did I unnecessarily spend a few hours at the centre when I could have just re-done the application? That embarrassed him and told me that he would let me back in the centre if came back exactly in 45 minutes. 

So, I rushed out of the centre and, went back to that same office which had translated my NIC card for me. I didn't have my laptop with me so I needed a computer. The fellow seemed to have handled these situations before. He quickly logged online and, started filling out the application. He even had a scanner so as to scan my passport size photo and upload it on the online application. We whizzed through 2 pages but for some reason, lost the whole application when hit 'Next' for the 3rd and last page! I was so angry. We re-started the whole process over but for some reason, the same thing kept repeating. The fellow was even kind enough not to charge me anything for his time. I gave up and, trudged slowly back to the car. 

The next day, I had to bring back Kavita with me. We got there bright early, armed with snacks and, all the necessary documents. Kavita was the epitome of cooperation and patience for the first 5 minutes of the whole 3-hour adventure at Gerry's. As the reception staff went through my documents, I explained to them what had happened the day before. The fellows looks shocked and, I sarcastically said that I was sure they would find another mistake in my application again.

I got up to the 3rd floor to wait in queue to submit my application. Kavita at this point got quite hyperactive and, was running up and down the waiting hall. There was also a kid who came over to us and, started telling me all about himself. He was quite shy at first. I had a pack of Oreos for Kavita and, also offered him one. I offered him one more but he was quite polite and, didn't want another. He told me all his A, B, C 's and alif bay's. He told me about his best friend who he currently had a 'katee' with because he sat on his other friendHe showed me his scraped knee. He also asked me to tell him what all the places were shown in the pictures on the walls. I guess "Colosseum" or "Leaning Tower of Pisa" for one. The other one was probably Tokyo. There was also a picture with a windmill and, the kid told me his mother had been there. I said, "Really? Your mom has been to the Netherlands?" He said, "Yes, and this time she was taking him wither." 

Anyway, so my token number was finally called and, I went up to the counter, lugging all my files in one hand, and Kavita in my other arm. I was so annoyed I was just waiting for them to tell me I was missing a comma or had forgotten to cross my t's or dot my i's. There turned out to be a minor issue. The guys did not agree that I could submit my visa application without my passport even thougtheir own website mentions it or the Indian High Commission one does, I forget. I was going to lose it and, the same fellow from the day before noticed I was boiling like a kettle. He called someone up and then confirmed I could submit my application without my passport. But he made me write a letter nevertheless and sign it. Then, they asked me to provide my mobile number. 

So, I don't know my mobile number off heart. I get a new SIM card every time I come back to Pakistan. I should have written it down somewhere and been prepared! 

Instead, I needed to go back down and retrieve my mobile phone and, then, get my number. The problem was I had lost the token! I went back down with all my documents (they wouldn't keep them for me) and tried to negotiate with the security guards. I was so tired and annoyed. They wouldn't give it to me even though I explained there was a lock on my phone and, only I could unlock it. But no one would agree. The security guard looked like he was grinning or something. That really annoyed me. he told me I should go back to the 2nd floor and talk to his boss. I threw a fit! I mean,  I was supposed to go back up, with a baby and all those papers and beg his boss to release my phone? I refused and asked to speak to his boss. The security guard called his boss and, I managed to convince him to come downstairs and give me my phone. He was an amiable man and obliged. He came down and politely gave me my phone. He also gave me a quiet lecture about needing to know my own mobile number. 

I went back up to the 3rd floor to be able to finally complete the application submission process. I paid the visa fees. It was 100 rupees for me and about 10,500 for Kavita. I initially wanted to get Kavita a 10-year multiple entry visa but the maximum number of years she would get when applying from India would be 1. So, next time she is in the US, we'll get her a 10-year one.

I asked the officer how long the visa process usually takes. Does it really take 8 weeks? He tells me that applications are usually returned within 2 to 3 weeks. That sounded good! 

It was over. Just at that time, the security officer comes over to say that they found my mobile phone token! Then, he proceeded to lecture me about his staff and, that I should be nice to them on my out. I tried my best. 

So ladies and gentlemen, I have submitted my application. For any Pakistani who wants to go to India, please know you need the following:
  1. 2 printed copies of the duly-filled online visa application with 2 passport-size photos (white background)
  2. Try not to make any mistakes when filling out the form. The guys at the centre will ask you to re-do it. So, if you are confused about anything, call the centre. The info for Gerry's is here and, I quote " Get the latest visa information 24 hours-a-day, 6 days-a-week through our hotline 0900 31111 (landline users) and 8111 (for mobile users).  Whether you want to check the status of your passport or wish to submit a visa application, the information will be available on your fingertips." 
  3. You will need to also upload your passport-size photo when you are completing the above - therefore, you need a digital copy of your passport size photo
  4. A copy of your NIC card (back and front) and, a translation (you can get a translation done at one of the little offices next to the visa centre)
  5. A copy of your landline bill in Pakistan
  6. 2 attested original sponsorship certificates filled out by your friends/relatives. Your hosts will need to send it in the mail. Expect 2-3 weeks by post from India
  7. 2 attested copies of the attesting officer's ID card from India
  8. Landline bill of your hosts in India
  9. Copy of ID card/passport of your host
  10. A polio certification for yourself (if you're in Islamabad, go to Policlinic)
  11. Copies of the main pages of your passport
  12. Copy of your passport in case you plan on submitting it without the actual passport
  13. Any other document you think would be useful
  14. The visa fees are 100 rupees for Pakistanis.
I am pretty sure I'll get the visa. I'm really really looking forward to my visit! 

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