Washington: The Indian-American community has complained of "inordinate" delay by the Indian embassy in issuance of visas, claiming that it is mainly due to imposition of new rules and acute shortage of staff at various consulates.
The community, which staged peaceful protest demonstrations at various Indian consulates in the US - Houston, San Francisco and Chicago - earlier this month, now plans to raise this issue with top officials of Indian government during 'Pravasi Bharatiya Divas' in New Delhi next month.
The outsourcing of visa application process three years ago at the initiative of the then Indian Ambassador, Ronen Sen, has not helped the situation either.
In some places like Houston and San Francisco, the delay in issuing visas has run into four weeks.
Authorities say that the strict enforcement of the new visa rules comes in the wake of the lessons learnt from the case of David Coleman Headley, a Mumbai attacks plotter.
"The problem is compounding every passing day," said Los Angeles-based Inder Singh, President of Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) International.
Now headed for New Delhi to attend the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, Singh was instrumental in holding a town hall meeting of Sushmita Thomas, Consul General of India, San Francisco, with the Indian-American community in the area.
"The sufferings of people have come to a point that we cannot keep quiet anymore," Ramesh Shah, a leader of 'Ekal Vidyalaya' in Houston said.
Shah had organised a day-long fast in Houston to protest against the delay in issuing of visas by the mission there.
Another community activist, Vijay Pallod, alleged 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.
Thomas Abraham, founder president and chairman emeritus of GOPIO, said "a large number of Indian-Americans are very unhappy by the new rules imposed by the Government of India for surrendering the old Indian passport and delays in issuance of visa to visit India."
"Many NRIs have complained that their winter trips to India are cancelled ... since they have not got their visa even after two months of applying for the same. Many Indian-Americans could not travel in an emergency back home because of the problem of getting a visa," said Abraham, who is based in New York.
"The consulate staff is overworked. They have no staff to attend telephone calls. Simply they don't provide any information on the visa and OCI matters over the phone," he said.
Indian-Americans always stand for India and have built bridges of understanding between the US and India, he said.
"However, suddenly some new rules have come which are keeping them away from their motherland."
"Starting of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, OCI Card, PIO card and a separate ministry for Overseas Indians were all decisions from Government of India in the right direction and are appreciated by the Indian diaspora community.
However, these new rules of passport surrender have alienated a large number of Indian-Americans.
"I hope that the Ministries of Home, External Affairs and Overseas Indian Affairs resolve this matter immediately," said Abraham, who would be attending the New Delhi event too.
Though issuing visa is an internal affair of any country, the US State Department on Monday said its citizens can contact it or approach Congressmen if they have any issues in this regard.
"They (US nationals) have clear avenues to communicate their frustrations or their concerns either through Congress or directly to the State Department. I don't know the specifics on this case, but I can certainly look into it," State Department Deputy Spokesman, Mark Toner, said in response to a question.
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