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Vijay Mehta
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xx Houston Community Protest Treatment of NRI
« Thread started on: Dec 9th, 2010, 11:33am »

From: Ramesh Shah [mailto:ramesh@ekalvidya.org]
Sent: Wednesday, December 08, 2010 10:35 AM
Subject: Houston Community’s Respectful Request for Immediate Action on Visas; Dharna planned for 12 Dec 2010
6 December 2010

To:
Meera Shanker Ji
Indian Ambassador to the United States
2107 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008

Re: Houston Community’s Respectful Request for Immediate Action to alleviate suffering of US Citizens of Indian Origin trying to obtain necessary travel documents to visit India. Dharna planned for 12 December 2010.

Respected Meera Ji,

Namaskar.

As members of the Houston Indian community, we are writing to respectfully request you to take immediate action to alleviate suffering of US Citizens of Indian Origin trying to obtain necessary travel documents to visit their homeland India.

In the past few months, our people have cried, begged, paid hundreds of dollars in fees to agents, and cancelled important trips at the last minute (at great personal cost) because of Indian embassy/consulate inability to issue visas in the promised time. Your perceived callousness is very sad and disheartening. We have helped as much as possible in individual cases and appreciate whatever assistance we have received. However, we recognize a larger issue in your unilateral imposition of rules and refuse to sit by and watch our community suffer without due process.

There is tremendous irony in the Indian Embassy in the United States approach to the Indian diaspora. On one hand, you encourage Persons of Indian origin to travel to India. There are events such as the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, Vibrant Gujarat, and tourism campaigns to encourage US Citizens of Indian origin to visit India, engage with their homeland, and of course, spend money there to propel the economy. The Indian diaspora send the maximum remittances to India.

On the other hand, the recent processes of the surrender certificate, the delays in processing OCI applications, and the complete non-responsiveness of your Embassy and Consulate services to questions and visa status inquiries is appalling.

The most recent debacle of the “Surrender certificate” is a prime example. In May 2010, the Indian government without any notice began to impose a fee for Persons of Indian origin to obtain a surrender certificate of old Indian passport(s). Many of us, who became US citizens decades ago, were asked to find our old Indian passports for surrender before we could obtain a visa to India. Almost overnight, all US citizens of Indian origin were informed they needed to pay $175-$250 per person and get a certificate of surrender of their old Indian passport. For an average family of four-five people of Indian origin who had all become US citizens, fees amounted to a staggering $500 or more. When questioned and due to public outrage, the Embassy reduced fee for passports older than 2005 to $20 [but did not refund the difference to those who already paid $175 initially].

Nevertheless, there continues to be chaos and confusion around the sudden implementation of this apparently decades-old rule.

We as a community nevertheless complied. We sent in our passports as requested. While the surrender certificate rule was imposed at your convenience, the consulates were not properly informed or prepared for the onslaught of passports arriving at their door. In Houston, hundreds of people have complained that obtaining a surrender certificate required multiple trips to the consulates office (several hours in line each time), and unpleasant interactions with overworked consular service staff.

Also, we have several dozen cases where passports have been lost. We have received desperate calls from Florida and Georgia for people who are traveling to India and unable to get status on the surrender certificate or their pending visas. Peaking in the windows, we can see boxes and boxes of pending cases on the consulate floor. Tickets to India cost thousands of dollars (especially in peak holiday season) and many have been unable to honor their travel plans because of avoidable visa delays.

Several of us have offered to help. The Senior Citizens Group of Houston arranged two separate meetings with the Consulate in offering their volunteer services. Both times, they were politely declined. We have even offered to provide free chai service to soothe irate patrons and received no response. No one answers the phones at the consulate. If we treat our own people without respect, how can we expect to cultivate respect for our motherland and society in general?

Our people are suffering and we will not stand by. We continue to be willing to volunteer to assist in the processes. However, we demand immediate action to resolve the current crisis created by the poor implementation of the surrender certificate rule and overall inability to cope with the situation at the Houston consulate.

We request the following immediate actions:
(1) Withdraw or suspend for now the surrender certificate requirement IMMEDIATELY for issuing passports and visas.
(2) Draft a circular that allows volunteers to assist in non-sensitive functions (intake, phone bank, and/or community relations) for this peak travel season.
((3) Provide ongoing training of the consulate staff in community relations and customer service. Allow for more responsiveness to community needs.

You will find attached a letter signed by various community organizations requesting your immediate action. We have also included several letters from affected US citizens (of Indian origin) who have irreparably suffered due to your actions.

We intend to hold a 24-hour fast on Sunday 12 December 2010 at India VPSS Haveli (11715 Bellfort Village Dr. Houston, TX 77031) beginning at 8 am, and concurrently start a media campaign, contact our elected representatives, and involve the US State department for relief. We intend no harm to India or her reputation. We simply ask that you stop treating your own people badly.

We are available to meet in Houston as soon as possible to amicably resolve these issues. We appreciate your willingness to take and implement community feedback for a more mutually beneficial relationship. We are ready and willing to do our part. We know that Truth and goodness will prevail.

With great pride in our Indian heritage, culture, and motherland,

Ramesh P. Shah: ramesh@ekalvidya.org
15455 Empanada Dr. Houston, TX 77083

Prakash Desai, prakashd@aol.com
Gujarati Samaj, Houston.

Lalit M. Chinoy, lalitandchatur@hotmail.com
Indian Senior Citizen Assoc. Houston

Congratulations to Houston Community Leaders. I am confounded by the steps taken by Government of India and their deaf ears to all the complains on this issue. Please forward this message to everyone you know. Time to let the Government officials know that inaction is not an option.
Good luck. We shall continue to post the progress on this matter here.
~ Vijay Mehta


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xx Re: Houston Community Protest Treatment of NRI
« Reply #1 on: Dec 31st, 2010, 07:09am »

Indian-Americans complain of delay in visa issuance by embassy
PTI, Dec 29, 2010, 02.33pm IST

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.

Read more: Indian-Americans complain of delay in visa issuance by embassy - The Times of India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/indians-abroad/Indian-Americans-complain-of-delay-in-visa-issuance-by-embassy/articleshow/7184350.cms#ixzz19hN21fTR
« Last Edit: Dec 31st, 2010, 07:10am by Vijay Mehta » User IP Logged

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