Why India is behind China!

June 7, 2011

I recently wrote how the world is less globalized than we suspect it is and how we now spend $88 billion a year in visa processing fees. What is not included in this figure is the extraordinary opportunity cost of time and inefficiencies imposed by the visa obtaining process. I recently experienced a telling experience which illustrates the differences between China and India.

OLX is present in both countries and I typically visit both countries every year. China unfortunately requires a visa for French citizens but has a very efficient process for obtaining and delivering it. You can pay a surcharge and obtain it the same day from their visa processing center on 12th avenue and 42nd street in New York. The processing center is very well staffed and even where there are many people in line, you rarely wait more than 30 minutes.

India by contrast makes it an ordeal to get a visa. I was supposed to keynote an Internet conference in Mumbai last December. I started going through the process in October. The application required my French birth certificate, notarized and apostilled in France, which as you can imagine is extremely difficult and time consuming to obtain from the US. It required a formal letter inviting me to India. It required a notarized copy of my visa for the US and copies of various bills proving my residence in the US. You then apply through a visa processing center where even the expedited process takes weeks during which they have your passport and you can’t travel anywhere!

You first apply online, which you need to do at least 5 times given the lack of proper instructions regarding specific requirements which seemingly vary on a case by case basis! To drop off the application you then have to wait in line for hours in front of the processing center. Several times, after waiting for 3+ hours they simply closed down the center saying there were too many people in line, asking us to come back again the next day!

Worse, it is basically impossible to get anyone on the phone at the visa processing center to get the status of your application. After several weeks of harassing them, they told me that my application was on hold because my new visa for the US was less than a year old and they would need notarized copies of all my past visas to prove the continuance of my US residency. I duly provided the required documentation and again waited for weeks before being told that because there was a gap of 6 weeks between two of my visas, I could not apply in the US and would have to apply at the Indian embassy in Paris! The fact that I live in the US and that I had no intent or reason to go to Paris did not dissuade them! By the time I finally got my passport back the conference had passed!

I pushed my trip back to late January, asked a good friend of mine in India to write a letter saying he was looking forward to hosting me during my vacation there and reapplied for a tourist visa. This time I had all the documents on hand and two weeks later, I had my visa.

Granted it is hard for Indians to get European and American visas, but imposing “reciprocity” with such complexity is insane and self-defeating, especially if it is the representation of Indian bureaucracy in general! Driving through the streets of Shanghai and Delhi, you can’t help but wonder how less stark the contrast would be if India streamlined its bureaucracy!

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