Frustrated travellers applying for Indian visas and OCI cards have described the process as a “nightmare” after waiting months for applications to be processed and being given conflicting information.
One woman who asked to remain anonymous, told Eastern Eye that she had travelled to a VFS office (an external agency that accepts visa applications on behalf of the Indian high commission) in Newcastle four times since April to apply for a joint OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) card with her husband.
After checking the VFS website, she arrived with all the relevant paper work only to be told she needed additional records which were not specified online. The couple were then told their application would not be accepted because they had omitted one of their middle names despite having their passports, photographs and all other documents required for the process.
She told Eastern Eye: “We’ve been back four times and there is just so much conflicting information on the website. You go there thinking you have all you need but you don’t.
“When we went there last time, I had my marriage certificate but we were told I needed a birth certificate. On the website it says you need to have either of the two, not both.”
After several setbacks and visits to the Newcastle office which only opened in March, the pair asked the adviser to submit the application and are currently waiting for it to be processed.
“You’ve got to be prepared to be turned away a lot. If the office hadn’t opened in Newcastle, we would have had to make trips to another city and that would have been horrendous,” she said.
She added that it felt like the adviser who was dealing with their forms hadn’t carried out the process before and “it was like they were making it up as they were going along”.
VFS Services was set up to process applications for visas, OCI cards and passports for the Indian high commission in Britain in 2008. Its website quotes “three simple steps” to complete an application; however, many have claimed that it is far from easy and described it as an “arduous and painful” procedure.
Another reader contacted the paper to complain about transferring his OCI visa to a new passport.
In his letter of complaint to the Indian high commission, he said: “Most of my friends have complained about the arduous and painful procedure of transferring the OCI visa whenever we renew our British passports to no avail. In fact, most of them have given up and now travel to India with the old British passport.”
People have also been stung when calling the helpline number, which is a premium rate line and costs 95p a minute.
A spokesperson for VFS told Eastern Eye they had 14 offices across the UK and an online appointment and payment system was also introduced in March.
“Processing time varies on a case-to-case basis, and as per the visa category applied for. Once the application is submitted to the diplomatic mission, the processing time is at the discretion of the mission as per their checks and internal processes. Generally, the processing time for a UK resident for a visa is approximately three working days once the application is submitted.
“All our processes are being reviewed periodically by the diplomatic missions and are updated on the website for the ease of visa applicants across the UK.
“The same-day business visa service is available in three cities (London, Birmingham and Edinburgh) for the convenience of the business traveller.
“There is a similar service available for visas in case of medical exigencies or family emergencies.”
Eastern Eye contacted the Indian high commission in London, which outsources the service to VFS, to find out how many complaints had been received and whether e-visas and visas on arrival were going to be introduced, but they declined to comment.