Sunday, January 24, 2021

One of the perks of retirement: never filling out another business visa application.

Gam Khoon Lay | Noun Project | CC3.0
A couple of days ago, I had a Facebook status from 2010 pop up as a memory. It was a single sentence that said I was "getting kind of tired of being the Indian visa 'expert.' (sigh)" When I shared it, I said, "It didn't get any better over the next ten years, either."

I should probably explain. In 2009, one of the partners I worked for began doing a fair amount of work in India, and so it fell to me to fill out the paperwork for his business visa.  For most countries, procuring a business visa is a complex process. You can fill out the form online, which is harrowing enough when you're doing it for someone else ("Hey, what's your mother's maiden name and where were your parents born?"). But it also involves a lot of other moving parts: a passport photo or two; your passport, because the consulate puts the visa in it; a copy of your passport, and it had better be photo quality; a letter from your employer saying you are, in fact, an employee, and you will have sufficient funds to cover your stay; a letter from your client saying you are, in fact, coming there to do business for them; and usually one or two other things. Some countries require a copy of your birth certificate. Some want a photo ID with the same address as the one on your application. Occasionally you'll be asked to provide a copy of your travel itinerary (which means booking refundable airline tickets that you're probably going to have to cancel because the visa won't be ready in time). At one point, Russia required proof of a negative HIV test. One country -- I don't remember which one -- insisted on proof that the applicant had graduated from law school; I recall that involved juggling an associate's massive, framed diploma onto a copier.

Countries also change their requirements from time to time. India, for example, went from accepting regular business letters from employer and client to a bizarre short-answer form that had to be to printed on company letterhead and signed by the big boss, with the company seal affixed. The Indian government issues company seals to Indian companies. Since we weren't an Indian company, we didn't have a company seal -- but the Indian government required us to provide one anyway. So our accounting folks made up something that kind of looked like a seal and turned it into a graphic, and I had to put that on the letters. (Why our accounting folks? Because they also had to affix the thing to the firm's Indian tax forms.)

Also, the Indian government decides whether to issue the length of visa you request. Several times, we asked for a five-year visa and got back a two-year visa -- with, of course, no refund of the additional fee we'd paid for the longer visa.

So it's a major hassle and involves a lot of herding cats ("Did you get your passport photo taken yet? Did you remember to bring in your passport today?") and often some back-and-forth with the visa processing firm. A few years ago, India changed their preferred visa processing firm; I hated calling them -- it was even odds whether I'd get a customer service rep with an accent I could understand. (I admit that was a "me" problem, but still.)

It's bad enough doing one application; if your legal team is five or ten or twenty people and they all need help getting their applications together, it gets old fast. But because I'd done so many, whenever any attorney at the firm had to go to India for the first time, their secretary would end up calling me for help.

Finally -- finally -- we asked for a ten-year visa for the partner I worked for, and the Indian government gave it to him. I was ecstatic. I knew I would be retiring well before he needed the thing renewed. I was finally done with Indian visa applications!

And then he got a new matter that would be staffed by a whole new bunch of lawyers -- including the other partner I worked for. I almost had a panic attack. That is not a euphemism; I came very close to breaking down at my desk. 

Thankfully, that was the last time I had to fill out a visa application for anybody. And now I'm retired and I never have to do another one. Someone else will have to become the firm's Indian visa expert once business travel overseas resumes, and that is just fine with me.

These moments of relaxed, retired blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay home when you can and mask up when you go out!


Anonymous said...

While not involving visa paperwork, I can cite a similar incident that attests to the opacity of Indian bureaucracy. Maybe even without violating my former employer's stringent NDAs.

We'd contracted for some data center space where we planned to build a content delivery node to support website image and streaming cloud content. We had the necessary gear delivered to the closest international airport, unaware that the facility where our space was located was just over the administrative line between two Indian states...and our gear could not be conveyed from the airport to the facility without the proper permits.

We spent over six months with legal teams trying to arrange those permits. Needless to say, we missed our service-ready date by a huge margin...and my program management team took the blame, rather than the real estate and legal folk who didn't exercise proper due diligence, nor hold their Indian colleagues feet to the fire.

Lynne Cantwell said...

None of that surprises me. We complain about bureaucracy here, but nothing in the US holds a candle to the stuff in India.

Lynne Cantwell said...

Thanks, Jo! I wish I'd thought of training someone else to do this. Kudos to you for being proactive!