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India to outsource visa processing
George Iype in Kochi | March 21, 2006
In 2005, 3915324 foreigners (nearly 4 million) visited India. The foreign tourist inflow brought in Rs 25,172 crore (Rs 251.72 billion) as foreign exchange earnings to the country.
The overseas interest in India as a great travel destination continues. In the last two months - January and February - 873078 foreigners visited India.
While India has finally managed to make its mark in the gloabl tourism map, the recent surge in tourist arrivals has left many Indian Embassies, especially in European countries gasping, as all foreign nationals, including children, require a visa to enter India.
According to the data supplied by the ministry of tourism, 1,000 visa applications are filed every day in Paris and most of them remain unattended, as the Indian Embassy is unable to handle this huge demand for Indian visas in France.
So to combat the surge in visa applications for India from across the globe, the government has now decided to outsource visa processing to private agencies.
"We are going to take up a pilot outsourcing project in London," Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed told rediff.com, adding that based on the success of the British project India would make this service available in other countries as well.
The external affairs ministry is at the moment scouting Britain for a competent agency to outsource visa processing.
"Our idea is to outsource visa processing the way countries like the United States and Britain have done in India," an official in the ministry coordinating the government's first outsourcing effort in this field pointed out.
A large number of Indians these days travel - both on personal and official trips - to countries like the US, UK and Australia. The surge in Indian travel has forced countries such as the US, UK, Australia, Canada, France, Italy and Ireland to outsource their visa processing to private companies.
Britain, for instance, has set up visa centres through private companies in Jallandhar, Chandigarh, Hyderabad and Pune. Thus a resident in Jallandhar hoping to travel to London, does not need to go all the way to New Delhi to get his papers ready. The whole process can now be completed at the British High Commission's outsourced centre in the city.
Similarly, the US has outsourced its visas through TT Services, a subsidiary of TTK Industries, to service visa requests from northern and southern Indian states.
Officials say outsourcing Indian visas abroad makes sense specially in geographically vast countries like the US.
In the US, India consular offices are present in only five cities that include New York and Houston. Thus an American citizen in Milwaukee hoping to travel to India, will have to go to the Indian visa office in New York and get his papers done.
As per the current outsourcing plan, the ministry of external affairs is eager to spread the visa services to at least 25 cities across America. "This will be possible only by outsourcing the visa processing to private agencies. We cannot afford to set up visa offices in 25 US cities," an official pointed out.
While the outsourcing of Indian visas will be cost effective, the government does not want to pick up private agencies without proper scrutiny. According to ministry officials, the government is likely to issue tenders for private agencies abroad.
The Manmohan Singh government, meanwhile, is also working on a visa-on-arrival policy. The Cabinet has urged the Union home ministry to study the feasibility of such a proposal.
As the government moves ahead with its outsourcing of visa plane, here are some statistics:
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