Due to a last-minute change in visa requirements, thousands of British tourists are being forced to postpone trips to India because they must appear in person at UK visa centres to apply for tourist visas, but there are no appointments available before their flights depart.
Until recently, hundreds of tourists from the United Kingdom used Visa agents to secure their tourist visas for India. However, on Monday evening the visa agents received notice that they were no longer permitted to apply for tourist visas on behalf of applicants and that they now had to appear in person at the Visa Facilitation Services Global (VFS) global application centres.
Another challenge in the procedure was that no appointments were available for the Britons for the following two months, according to the newspaper. This led to the cancellation of thousands of British tourists’ vacation plans in India. However, the Indian high commission in London said that the visa regulations had not changed.
The report noted that while at nine visa processing centres (VFS) in Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Cardiff, Edinburgh, central London, Hounslow, Leicester, and Manchester all appointments were fully booked at least until November 18, and no further dates showed any availability, the British passport holders were informed of the change via an automated message. The earliest dates for the visa appointments, according to the report, might be around mid-December.
According to Yasin Zargar, general director of Indus Experiences, a London-based company that arranges special interest tours and custom vacations in India, there are no appointments available for the next two months, so even if they attend in person, they will not be able to obtain the visa.
“There is no option to get a visa unless they book the appointment online. We have had clients turn up without an appointment and get turned away. It is so stressful for us and our operation is at a standstill.”
Zargar said, “We have imminent departures to India on 27 and 29 October, and we face a loss of £42,000 as our clients have had their passports returned without visas. They have paid us money, and we have issued tickets and paid overseas suppliers. Those suppliers have in turn paid for internal tickets. But if our clients do not have visas, they cannot travel,” he said.
“They paid hundreds of pounds in service to the visa agent and won’t get refunded. Some clients are saying why should we go to India at all if this is the stress. The UK is the largest tourist market for India and this is hitting employment in India. Our operation has come to a standstill,” he added.
London-based Travcour VLS (UK) Ltd is a visa company owned by Darren Bridges. The entire week, he has been returning 900 British clients’ passports that were devoid of visas. He claims that if he were to return the service price, he would be in a tremendous deficit.
Bridges said, “We were notified Monday at 7 pm that we had to take applicants with us to the visa centres. Until now, we would send a courier there every day with 20 to 40 passports and submit them directly and VFS sends them to the High Commission of India to have the visa issued, normally without the applicants present.”
Our clients are mostly elderly people, often all over the country, and having to drag everyone to a London-based appointment is unworkable. Well, now they cannot get an appointment online. The earliest appointment is November 22 and from that date, it can take 10 days to get a visa processed, so for anyone with travel arrangements before this date, it is not going to happen,” he said.
He added, “You can’t apply any more than three months before the date of travel for the visa, so there is a very narrow window… Most were rebooking their trips from two years ago when trips got cancelled because of Covid, and we were helping them to get their trips booked, and now the whole system has got pulled out from beneath us. We spoke to people on the ground in India, and they are desperate for tourism”.
This latest setback for British tourists comes on top of the fact that the e-visa program for UK people was not resumed after the pandemic, despite the fact that citizens of 135 other countries, including the US, were permitted to use it.
Hotel Prem Villas owner Pawan Mahawar told TOI that Pushkar, Rajasthan, mainly depends on British visitors. After Israelis, they make up the majority of new arrivals. Since the epidemic, there are no guests at the hotels, and tourism has decreased by 90%. The British visitors must return, please. Indians are less numerous due to lumpy skin illness, but Israelis continue to arrive, he claimed.
India’s High Commission in London released a statement stating, “It has come to our notice that unauthorised agents and individuals are illegally charging fees and collecting India visa applications for submission at VFS centres, misleading applicants and misrepresenting the services that they can legally provide. This matter is currently being investigated.”
It further said, “High Commission of India emphasises that VFS Global Services is the only authorised outsourcing provider for India-related passport/visa/and consular services in the UK. As per established procedure, individual visa applicants are, and always have been, required to submit visa applications at the VFS centres in person.”
“Applicants can book online appointments to submit visa applications at https://www.hcilondon.gov.in/appointment_home/. For information on visa procedures please visit https://www.hcilondon.gov.in/page/general-visa-information/. It is reiterated that there is no change in the visa application process for individual visa applications. The High Commission of India assures our friends in the UK that it remains our constant endeavour to improve the visa services by streamlining processes and to address delays and shortfalls in services.” the statement added.