G20 Summit: Govt imposes travel restrictions in Delhi while Indian tourists face restrictive visa procedures, delays

When I was young, I believed that the Indian tourist who ventured overseas was a hapless victim of circumstance. Trapped between a passport that bore no international heft, and crippling restrictions that made a honeymoon abroad seem more tribulation than tryst, Indian travellers learnt to shield their wounded pride with equanimity, economy, or emigration.

But I was convinced that this was a thing of the past. India’s record as a growth economy, preferred trading partner, and foreign talent provider had relaxed entry restrictions in all but a handful of neighbouring countries. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when a close friend informed me that he could not accompany his 18-year-old son to the Netherlands, where the latter had successfully enrolled in a college, because my friend’s visa, for which he had applied months earlier, was still under process and, like some prepaid taxi rental led astray by its map software, showed no sign of making an appearance in time for his departure.

The beginning had been as infuriating as the conclusion. The EU demanded a raft of documents about personal particulars, occupational status, income level, bank statements, ad infinitum, and proof of purchase of air tickets and accommodation. And since the EU neither guarantees the issuance of a Schengen visa nor provides an undertaking to dispatch it in time for one’s visit, my friend was forced to purchase flexible – and considerably more expensive – airfare and lodging. Particularly humiliating was that every document had to be photocopied – every page of his passport, for instance – and duly notarised.

Adding inertia to insult, the Brussels brigade has appointed a local doyen of lethargy to schedule visa appointments and manage the visa application process for Rs 10,000. My friend applied for his visa interview in May. It was granted two weeks before his scheduled departure date in August. Finally, his passport, impounded for three weeks, was returned after his son had departed, and was stamped for a single entry into the EU, the validity of which has since expired.

Other countries have accepted the advent of Indian tourists gracefully. America is more relaxed, Japan and Singapore super-efficient. These countries try to accommodate tight schedules and grant long-term visas. Even Britain, ever a nation of shopkeepers, is willing to expedite visa processing for an extortionate fee. Unfortunately, the EU subjects Indians to the same treatment as that other hapless class: stateless refugees.

However, a European diplomat, of dim acquaintance and dimmer acuity, was quick to counter this notion. The problem, he declared, lay in the fact that Brussels managed visa norms. To change anything for the better would mean getting 27 countries to reach a consensus – something that could not be countenanced because dissent and discord were fundamental European rights.Perhaps India should fight this pitiless bureaucracy with fell officialdom, of which its past record is exemplary. Politicians can join heads with sundry civil servants – even resuscitating retired IAS officers, long in the tooth, but strong in the jaw – to unleash an epic campaign of regulatory confusion, procedural terror, and resolution uncertainty for EU applicants. And if this seems vengeful – which it is – external affairs minister S Jaishankar, who is fond of saying that Europe needs to understand that it is no longer the centre of the world, should take it up sternly at the appropriate level.The difference between India’s attitude towards outsiders and that shown to its own people is evident in the handling of the G20 Summit in Delhi, where the government has imposed travel restrictions and other inconveniences on the locals for five days. This will be happily acknowledged by European delegates – who would never dare do the same in their home countries. But there is no guarantee that it will win India either concessions or respect.

In the end, being everyone’s favourite performing tiger is not enough. It’s time to bare teeth – not bear hugs – to effect a change.

(The writer is founder-CEO, ALSOWISE Content Solutions)


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.