Washington, Oct. 4: Developing country India is subsidising the richest nation of earth, America! In visa fees!
Nearly a year after the US state department implemented a whopping increase in visa fees for Indians wanting to travel to America, New Delhi is still dragging its feet on a similar increase in visa fees for Americans travelling to India.
Since November 1, 2002, Indians have had to cough up $175 (Rs 8,575 at the current exchange rate) for applying for a US visa either at its embassy in New Delhi or at its consulates in Calcutta, Mumbai and Chennai. On the other hand, Americans applying for a visa at the Indian embassy in Washington or at its consulates in Chicago, Houston and New York, still pay a mere $60, the equivalent of Rs 2,940.
Complaints are understood to be pouring into South Block over this very obvious inequity and officials in the ministry of external affairs, at a loss to respond to such complaints, are understood to be resentful at the government’s reluctance to take what should normally be a routine decision.
According to convention, visa fees and courtesies are decided reciprocally.
India’s reluctance to raise visa fees for Americans is all the more puzzling because only recently South Block’s consular, passports and visa divisions implemented harsh, new visa restrictions on at least one European country. The decision was in response to similar restrictions being imposed by that state on Indians applying for visa to that country. The irony in the case of the US is that of the $175 that Indians have to pay every time they apply for an American visa, $100 (Rs 4,900) is forfeited even if the embassy in New Delhi or the three consulates in metropolitan cities decide to refuse visa to applicants.
That portion of the money is treated as visa application fee. A high proportion of visa applications by Indians is rejected by the Americans, but the US government benefits monetarily even when visa requests from Indian citizens are rejected. India, on the other hand, has no such split fee structure. In any case, only a fraction of visa applications are rejected by the Indian mission and consular posts here.
If an American citizen applies for a business or tourist visa of more than five years duration but up to 10 years, he has to pay $150 (Rs 7,350).The majority of applications from Americans are, however, for short-term visas, for which they pay only $60 (Rs 2,940). If they apply for a 15-day visa with single or double entry, they pay even less: $30, the equivalent of Rs 1,470.
For Indians applying for US visas, there are no such distinctions and the fee of $175 is standard for all non-immigrant visas. In many cases, visas are issued for six months.
Since the beginning of last month, the situation has become even more rough for Indians. On August 2, paranoid over the approaching anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York, Washington suspended transit facilities for those flying through US airports to other countries without a visa.
Thousands of Indians use airports in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington and Houston to travel to other countries, especially to visit relatives in Canada. They are now required to get US visas even if they are not stepping out of an American airport while transiting through US air space.
One of two such programmes suspended in August has been in operation for more than 50 years. Officials of the recently created department of homeland security here said the suspension, which applies to all foreigners, would be reviewed in October.
The visa fee increase implemented by the state department in November, 2002, worldwide for all non-immigrants was the second such increase last year.
At the same time, Washington reduced consular fees for some services for US nationals abroad at its embassies.
The two-time increase in visa fees exposed an unexpected trend in travel to the US: a 19.6 per cent decrease in non-immigrant visa applications for travel to America during the financial year 2001-2002, which began immediately after the terrorist attacks on September 11.