Visa Odyssey

Corey writes:

Yesterday we got our visas officially renewed, which is good since our original visas expired eight days ago. The idea of being illegal aliens scared us a little, but we were assured the documents were approved and just waiting at the police office.

Let me back up and say that our visa extension journey started four months ago, in July. Having been warned about the tribulations of our fellow vols (more on that later), we tried to start the process early. Gina and I filled out the necessary forms (3 copies each, by hand, no Xerox allowed!) and made the fee "challan". To get the challan you have to fill out another form (in triplicate), submit the form to the district treasurer, and then pay visa extension fee at a local bank. You're not allowed to pay the fees directly to a government official, probably to prevent bribery. I visited our friendly neighborhood Foreigners Registration Office (FRO) and was told to come back 60 days before our current visas expired. You see, the visa renewal policy says the documents must be submitted a minimum of 60 days before the expiration, which our FRO guy also interpreted as a maximum of 60 days. So, for those of you counting there is one magical day where we could submit the documents.

That day arrived and I submitted the documents with gusto. "So... how is your copier paper there at SOVA?" the FRO guy asks to the SOVA colleague who accompanied me. "We really need some good copier paper here at the FRO office." Hint, hint, nudge, nudge. That's right folks, I paid a bribe. Apparently all it takes to grease the wheels of the Indian bureaucracy is office supplies.

Fast forward 55 days and we've heard nothing. But SOVA colleague assures us there's nothing to worry about, but still we worry. And then yesterday afternoon the tension is broken with the delivery of our documents:

No, you're not seeing things. That paragraph of typewritten text is what makes us legal residents of this country. And it doesn't even say "visa extended" it just says the visa extension is being processed. That is as good as we're going to get. We plan to double-laminate it and keep it under our pillows at night.

Now that you know our visa renewal story, you should know that we got off lightly. Here are a few visa stories from our VSO colleagues.

Leaving the country

Many volunteers have to leave India for various reasons, including weddings and funerals of close family. Getting out of the country is a challenge because we all have to get "exit visas" from our local police office. Basically, a document saying "Corey is not wanted for murder in my district, it's OK for him to leave the country." The airlines will not let you on the plane without it. One friend got all the way to Delhi from Koraput (40 hour train ride) and was turned away at the airport. She had to come all the way back to Koraput (40 hour train ride again) just to get an exit visa.

Once you've left India, getting back is another story. We've had a couple friends just end up getting new visas in their home countries because the airlines wouldn't let on the flights back to India.

New Visas

Sometimes getting a visa in your home country can be a pain as well. A new batch of VSO vols is supposed to be arriving in Delhi next week, but only 3 out of 13 have gotten their visas. So the whole training program is being delayed by a week in hopes that the remaining 10 can get visas.


Any time anyone (even Indian citizens) has to interact with the government it seems to be a painful process. Some of our friends have had to visit their local FRO office a dozen times to get their visas renewed. Some have waited 4+ hours in line and then gaped as the office closed for the lunch hour. However, one lucky volunteer waited in line next to Sting in Delhi.