Chocolate and Gold Coins

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Visa Office

If you want to see an inefficient bureaucracy in action, just visit the Indian Consulate on Massachusetts Ave in D.C. There in the basement is a small room where you get your visa. What a madhouse that place is!

Before I visited the consulate, I called to see if they would be open the Friday after Thanksgiving. I dialed the phone three times. Each time the phone rang for 100 rings (Yes 100!) and then went to a voice mail that said, “Sorry, you cannot leave a message, the voice mailbox is full.” I have an idea: Indian call center!

So we took our chances by visiting the consulate. We had to park a few blocks away and walk there (actually, the consulate is located in a very posh neighborhood). I saw a sign for visas. I went to the basement and knew instantly I was at the right place: it was standing room only!

I took a ticket. I was number 66 and they were on 15. It would be more than an hour to get to our number. That wouldn’t be so bad if we could sit somewhere but there few only 40 seats for 120 people. Luckily, my son got a seat.

There were only two clerks to take care of so many people. It was just ridiculous. And if that wasn’t bad enough, people who had questions were always bothering them. These were people who:
1. Didn’t understand the concept of taking a ticket and waiting for their number to be called,
2. Had specific difficult questions that should have been answered by someone on the phone if there had been such a person,
3. Had specific difficult problems that should have been dealt in another office if there had been one.

Luckily, I had read the web page carefully and came completely prepared with the proper cash amount and the forms filled out. If everyone was like that, they could have processed 200 applications an hour. As it was they only processed 30 applications an hour.

The day before yesterday, I took my ticket back to the consulate to pick up the passports with the visas. Again, it was standing room only. This time, there were no tickets, just a long queue the snaked about the entire room in a completely haphazard manner. All we were doing was picking up our passports and leaving but it was going very slowly. There were people who were panicking because they didn’t get their visa and their flight left the next day. There was only one lady to take care of everybody and she was completely overwhelmed.

I guess I cannot complain too much about my experience – at least we got our visas! But I cannot help thinking about the family that needed their visas and their flight left the next day. The overwhelmed clerk just sighed and said, “There is nothing we can do.” We could have been that family just as easily.

We will be leaving in one week. After we leave, there will be no blogging for the rest of December. (Well, I’ll try to sneak in a post somehow).


  • Am surprised at the conditions in DC.

    Must say the consulate here in NYC is super efficient. Chaotic, yes but efficient nevertheless. !!

    Have a great India trip.

    Where are will you be going ?

    By Anonymous arZan, at 1:40 PM  

  • Hi Michael,

    I will be going to Hyderbaad next week. Will you be in Chennai?

    I hope you got a ten year visa so you can avoid the hassle for at least a decade.


    By Blogger Vikram A., at 2:37 PM  

  • the SFO consulate also is a bit better. I sent in my passport for renewal......last year (around Christmas), and they actually called me exactly one week later, saying my new passport was ready, and would be shipped to me that night by overnight mail....not too bad at all.

    Have fun travelling........and if you want some "touristy" information for places in southern India......send me an email. I've spent too much time travelling through almost all of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and good parts of kerala and Andhra.

    By Blogger Sunil, at 3:33 PM  

  • Hi Arzan, Vikram, and Sunil
    Arzan: I'm going to Chennai and Mysore.

    Previously I had gotten a visa from the Chicago Consulate and got it all done in a day. It wasn't that bad.

    Vikram: Have a nice trip in Hyderabad. I won't be in Chennai until Saturday the 10th.

    Sunil: I could have done it by mail but my wife didn't like that idea. You never know, they might lose our passports. So we went in person. Thanks for the offers of "tourist information" but my wife's parents have already planned everything. We will be spending two weeks in Chennai itself not doing much. My wife doesn't much like "busy vacations".

    Maybe I can watch a cricket match. They'll still be playing Sri Lanka in tests. Five days of watching cricket - my wife would not like that at all.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 3:49 PM  

  • Hi Michael,

    Been through that consulate too many times! Thankfully don't have to go there for at least another 9 years.

    If you are passing through Bangalore, let me know. We'll be in town until the 16th of December.

    You'll be here in December and we'll be in VA during the second half of December (and the first week of Jan)! I bet you're looking forward to some balmy weather and we're looking forward to some snow and windchills.

    Have a great trip!

    By Blogger Sujatha, at 11:40 PM  

  • Could you request your wife to let you spend a day in Mumbai? ;)

    By Anonymous Ravikiran, at 12:54 AM  

  • Hi Sujatha and Ravikiran
    Sujatha: no, were going to Mysore and not to Bangalore. I kind of wanted to visit Bangalore. But we would have missed you anyway. But we will be back in Virginia by New Years.

    Ravikiran: Mumbai will have to be another trip. I really would have liked to visit. I know so many bloggers in Mumbai. I don't know one in Chennai (well maybe one).

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 1:07 AM  

  • Hi Michael,
    I rarely commented on this although I have been reading you regularly ever since Amit Varma pointed me to this one.
    I live in Mysore and it is a nice place to visit. Are you planning a tourist thing here or visiting someone ?
    have fun,

    By Blogger Gana, at 1:27 AM  

  • Same story everywhere....I remember going to the Indian Consulate in re-new my Indian passport....haaai ! Ram..those guys took nearly a month...and the reason was simple "We are back-logged".

    By Anonymous Sakshi, at 5:22 AM  

  • Michael,

    You chose a good time to visit Madras. Do try some music and dance concerts. Hope you enjy your trip!

    By Anonymous Srikanth, at 12:19 PM  

  • Hi Gana, Sakshi, and Srikanth
    Gana: We are going to Mysore on the way to a nature preserve. We hope to see a tiger or something. I'll be happy if I see a monkey.

    Sakshi: Yes, well nothing beats this office: the department of Homeland Security. People have waited for up to 3 years to get a security clearance.

    Srikanth: Definitely, we plan to take in a few concerts.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 6:02 AM  

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