Indian-Americans protest over new Indian visa rules



Indian-Americans protest over new Indian visa rules 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 country.

"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 India.

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 opportunities.

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 visa-processing.

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

PTI