India’s High Commission is enforcing rules that require in-person visa applications for British citizens — a move that has caught out many in the travel industry.
Previously it turned a blind eye to visas that were being processed in batches, according to one specialist tour operator.
But on Oct. 7 the High Commission in the UK stated applicants must attend visa centers in person, as it had noticed “unauthorized agents and individuals are illegally charging fees and collecting India visa applications for submission at VFS Centres, misleading applicants and misrepresenting the services they can legally provide.”
Thousands of travelers may now be forced to cancel their holidays, as appointments at visa centers are booked out in advance.
“There were a set of visa companies who would enter without an appointment, with 20 or 30 passports,” said Amrit Singh, co-founder and managing director of UK tour operator TransIndus. “They were being processed. All of a sudden, somebody higher up has realized that this is breaking the rules. So they’ve put a stop to it.”
She said TransIndus was now unable to accept new bookings until January. “The bigger problem is that we can’t take any fresh bookings. We couldn’t book a holiday for a client knowing there’s no opportunity for them to acquire a visa,” Singh said.
For clients traveling beyond January there was still time, but for those traveling between now and December it was “a real issue.”
“It was a casual arrangement (before) that the visa services carved out for themselves, with the local offices. I don’t think it was a formal arrangement sanctioned by the local High Commission,” Singh added.
The UK’s Association of Independent Tour Operators said 1,500 bookings through its own members worth $10 million were affected, according to reports.
According to The Times, VFS Global, which runs the processing bureaux, said the decision to insist travellers present in-person had been made due to the high number of administrative errors made by the third-party visa companies.
India currently offers 156 countries access to an online visa application process, which is similar to the U.S.’ Electronic System for Travel Authorization. It reintroduced e-visas in March this year, after Covid-19 cases decined. But UK and Canada nationals are currently excluded from this e-visa system, along with residents from Algeria, Burkina Faso, Lebanon and Pakistan.
However, as the UK government continues talks over a Free Trade Agreement with India, there are hopes the UK could be included, with “mobility and migration” under discussion on both sides.
One commentator has suggested that India’s decision to clamp down on visas was retaliation over UK home secretary Suella Braverman’s comments she had “concerns about having an open borders migration policy with India.”
“There is some discussion of a trade deal being finalized by Oct. 24. Perhaps the e-visa is a part of that negotiation,” Singh said.
In the meantime, individuals wanting an Indian visa can appoint another person to attend one of the nine visa processing centres in the UK, via a formal letter of authorization.
The U.S. is also facing delays issuing its own visas, which could prevent 6.6 million people from traveling there next year, resulting in a loss of $11.6 billion in spending, economists have warned.
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