Indian-Americans protest over new Indian visa rules

The Indian diaspora urged the Indian government to repeal the retroactive 2010 surrender certificate rule, investigate the fee charges and where possible, return money unfairly collected.

Updated: May 02, 2011, 21:32 PM IST

Houston: Indian-Americans in major US
cities protested over the delay in receiving Indian visas
following the introduction of new rules.

Protesters were carrying banners, getting signatures
on a petition for the Prime Minister of India, and also sent
letters to their US representatives.

The community seeks "respect, accountability and
transparency from the Indian government" with regard to
processes dealing with the diaspora.

The Indian diaspora urged the Indian government to
repeal the retroactive 2010 surrender certificate rule,
investigate the fee charges and where possible, return money
unfairly collected.

Indian-Americans are also not happy with the Indian
government requesting and holding their passports for over 40
days in order to issue an OCI-visa.

The protests were carried out in Houston, Dallas,
Chicago, Tampa, Maryland and South Carolina.

Houston witnessed a 36-hour fast against the delays
over the visa on April 30 and May 1.

The fast was observed by several prominent community
members of Indian origin to create awareness across the

"We are against the system which is broken. It must be
fixed," Ramesh Shah, a long-time leader in the Indo-American
community, said during the demonstration in southwest Houston.

"The sufferings of people have come to a point that we
cannot keep quiet anymore and the Government of India, needs
to think over the issue patiently," Shah said.

"The surrender certificate is slowing down the process
for Indian-Americans who are waiting for their visas to go to
see their family in India for the holidays. In addition, the
consulate charges as much as USD 250 to cancel the old
passports," Prakash Patel, a participant said.

The protesters, frustrated due to the delays were
demanding "immediate" actions to be taken for the withdrawal
or suspension of the surrender certificate rules required
immediately for issuing passports and visas.

"We sent in our passports as requested. While the
surrender certificate rule was imposed at your convenience,
the consulates were not properly informed or prepared for the
onslaught of passports arriving at their door," Patel said.

Another community activist, Vijay Pallod, said that he
was informed by the Houston consulate that it will take a
minimum of four weeks to get a visa, which used to be a
one-day procedure earlier.

"For me it was very hard to believe. The complaints I
have been hearing are true. When I tried to fill out the form,
I got the alert message not to purchase tickets unless I have
visa," he said.

Indian-Americans always stand for India and have built
bridges of understanding between the US and India, Pallod
said. "However, suddenly some new rules have come which are
keeping them away from their motherland."

Not happy with the new rules, the protestors said that
several months prior, on May 30, 2010, the Government of India
had imposed a bureaucratic rule retroactively requiring a
Surrender or Renunciation Certificate for naturalised US
citizens to demonstrate that they are no longer citizens of

The Indian government has collected millions of
dollars in fees to cancel invalid Indian passports for
naturalised US citizens.

Even those naturalised US citizens whose Indian
passports expired 20+ years ago had to pay a fee to "cancel"
their old Indian passports.

The surrender certificate rule has created chaos in
the Indian embassy workings.

Indian-Americans have stood in endless lines and
missed multiple work days simply to get a certificate
indicating they have cancelled their old (often expired)
Indian passports.

Since the surrender certificate is a prerequisite for
any visas to India, many who were unable to navigate the
Indian bureaucracy missed family events and business

There are several thousands of people who have
obtained US citizenship over the last 60 years and they have
been travelling to India on American passports with Indian
visas granted by the same consulates whose websites now have
new rules which are applicable retroactively.

"If the law did exist in the past, Indian consulates
in the USA should have asked for the surrender of Indian
passports before granting Indian visas to US citizens of
Indian origin.

"Requiring Americans of Indian Origin to surrender
their Indian passports after the lapse of many years of their
naturalisation as US citizens, would cause undue hardship and
delay in getting consular services," the protestors feared.
Another issue for the protest was the problem of
obtaining OCI Visa.

"On March 15, 2011, the Indian government ruled that
US citizens applying for an Overseas Citizenship of India
(OCI) lifetime visa must deposit their US passport with the
Indian consulate for the 6-month duration of the

"This rule prohibits free travel and creates overall
security risks," said Patel.