Why India is behind China!

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!

  • It’s weird because I had no issue to have a turist visa, multiple entries for 5 years, for India

  • without the bureaucracy…what could be…what could have been…is a thesis by itself…I have actually forwarded your article to some friends who work in the bureaucracy in India!!

    Cheers, Chandradev

  • We (my wife & I) are Indian nationals living in DC metro are for past 7 years. We went through the worst nightmare when my wife applied for a new passport (name change) at the Indian embassy in Washington DC. If I write the whole experience it would be twice the size of your article. Brief summary
    1.) We were asked to produce our marriage certificate in English (certificate was in Hindi, which is the official national language of India).
    2.) Embassy lost the passport asked us to apply for the new passport then old passport can in the mail after 4 months.
    3.) After going through horrible pain and misery in the end when we received the passport one of the officer asked my wife that he should be “awarded” (bribe) for helping her.
    I was ashamed and felt sad after all I am also an Indian.

  • They’re simply worried that you may start taking jobs from other Indians, and instead use your application as a way of creating employement. 🙂

  • Yes, the Chinese government might be more efficient, but I agree with the reciprocity of the Indian consulates. I, as an Indian, have had much worse experiences while getting my US visas. By the way, registering a company in India is much faster than in the U.S. It took me 10 minutes and $11 (INR 500) to get it done over here in Bangalore whereas in Wisconsin it had taken me 7 days and $180 to get my registration certificate.

  • I think it is for political convenience or political correctness that we in the west always piggyback India when we talk about China’s economics miracle. This is because China is a country with a political system that we do not agree to while India follow our example of democracy. When we have to discuss China’s achivements, we have to say, “China, a communist country, is doing extremely well, but India, a democracy is also doing well.”. However, we all know India is so much behind China.