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Angela’s Indian Visa Shuffle in the USA: Tips on How To Apply and Avoid Delays via BLS International

11/08/2013
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bangalore-blog-bls-international-apply-for-indian-visa-in-usaI’m back to my roots in California for the first time in 10 years, and out of India for the first time since 2011, all for the sake of my Indian employment visa.  You see in India a foreign resident is not allowed to change employer and simply modify our paperwork within the country, we are required to exit the country to apply for and receive a ‘fresh visa’ in order to continue our stay in India.  The first time I changed employers in India I simply went back to Barcelona, Spain because I had been residing there for eight year and at that point in time I was still a legal resident but this time I’ve had to take the 26 hour journey back to Los Angeles to apply for my fresh visa.

My friend Sharell Cook who runs About.com for India warned me before I left that there were problems in the U.S. (and other countries) and I should prepare for significant delays due to the recent change in the Indian visa outsourcing partner.  I booked my ticket so I had a comfortable 3 weeks back in the U.S. to ensure I had enough time to complete everything and so far, so good.

I had great luck and my visa was issued within the time shown on the BLS International website – the company who won the bid to handle visas for India.  I don’t have a single complaint and only have fantastic things to say about their service.  So when I read a discussion thread on Fodor’s that was just chock-a-block full of really negative comments about BLS and the not-so-stellar service that some people were experiencing, I decided to share my positive experience on that discussion thread … and that’s where the inspiration for this post started.  After I left my honest feedback about my experience, two people immediately attacked me and my comment and accused me of being either employed by BLS, lying about applying for my visa or a friend of the owner!

bangalore-blog-bls-international-apply-for-indian-visa-in-usaWhat the hell?  Anyway, the distrusting comments – addressed to me only because my experience was different than theirs – gave rise to this, a bit of advice on how to navigate the Indian visa application process and keep your cool in the event that everything doesn’t proceed as smoothly as it should.

{Note: Given the sceptical comments I received from a simple ‘update’ comment on Fodor’s I feel compelled to do something out of character and state clearly that I don’t know anyone at BLS and I have zero association or alliance to BLS and had never had any contact with them until my first call two days after they received my visa application! I live in India, am CEO of the social media company Stratagem Labs, and am writing this to shine a different light on BLS than what is portrayed online at the moment – because my experience has honestly been excellent.}

I’m not an expert, but this is the 4th time that I’ve applied for an Indian visa in the past two and a half years, and I’ve had a very positive experience with BLS, so here we go!  Here’s how things went for me, and a couple of tips:

  • Triple check your paperwork and follow the samples online.  Tourist visas are simple, but if you are going over for business, with an NGO, for a job, or anything that requires additional paperwork it is essential to send it right the first time to avoid delays.  There are samples of the various letters and the style required for documentation out there, so do follow them.  Make sure that Indian documents all contain the company stamp and initials/stamp on every page of every document needed.
  • Track your application online after you are sure it has been received by BLS.  Try each of the options for tracking online.  I applied by post (it was received on Monday) but the ‘track postal applications’ option did not work for me.  I had to use the ‘Click here to Track Applications submitted on and after 1st July’ and then only the ‘passport’ option worked to track it.
  • When you track your application, if it says ‘no record found’ and you are sure that it has been received by BLS, call them straight away!  I waited til Wednesday to do this and lost a day in the process.  The customer service representative who I spoke to apologised, took down all the information from my application needed to enter a ticket into the support system and told me my application would be in the system within 48 hours.
  • I became restless though and started Google’n around and found the email ID of a BLS employee on Fodor’s in a thread about Indian visas so I emailed him (this is the email ID I found, that was accompanied by a nice ‘sorry you are having problems, please email me and let us help’ message: rattanw@blsinternational.com).  The text in my email was courteous and respectful (kindness and gracious behaviour goes VERY far with Indians, never underestimate the power of simply being humble and nice).  I shared my concern over the delay in processing my visa, and how that would going to impact my life.  I gave the facts of the situation, simply asking for help and advice on how to proceed. Within 10 minutes I received a call back from BLS with a promise that within 24 hours I would have an update.  The man who called seemed genuinely concerned and wanted to help. 
  • When I tracked my application on Thursday, my status had changed from ‘no record found’ to ‘in process at the consulate general’, which was a huge relief.
  • Thursday I also received a call from BLS telling me that because Friday was a holiday (it was Eid in India) and since the weekend are non-working days that I shouldn’t expect my visa to be processed until Monday or Tuesday.  It was very reassuring to have someone who seemed to care and who gave me a clear picture of what was happening.
  • Saturday: it turns out that BLS was wrong, though!  Looks like the Consulate was working on Friday – to help reduce the backlog of pending visas is my guess.  I’m writing this blog post on Saturday night and I just went to check the terminology on the BLS website in the tracking system for the article and I saw that my status was changed to ‘Dispatched via Courier’!  Woo hooo!  I logged into UPS and it turns out that my visa and passport have been en route now since Friday and will arrive on Monday morning by 10:30am.  Rock on!!  That means that when all is said and done that the process took one week, which is the timeframe they claim on their website.

When I spoke to the rep on Wednesday I commented that I really appreciated the call because my expectations for good customer service were low after reading so many negative comments on the Internet.  He admitted that things have been a challenge because they assumed the workload of each of the other visa processing companies, they are new, and that there were problems with the migration that were beyond their control.  I can totally relate to that, as can most people.  It happens with any business during a merger or acquisition … or when they are simply new.  But it is obviously terribly upsetting when a business affects the personal lives of so many people.

My advice is to 1) ensure your paperwork is 100% perfect, 2) call after the first day, and 3) gain a personal contact or an ally within the customer support team if possible.  BLS really seems to be trying hard to turn things around and improve their service.  They were always very kind and helpful on the phone.  I hope that you will have the same good luck with your visa application as I did.

XOXO Angela

Please NOTE: I wrote this post to share my experience and offer some tips. My blog is like my home and I really don’t want it being turned into a place for a stream of negativity.  Sadly, I’ve seen what happend on the other threads about visa processing, they turned into an outlet for people who are really frustrated by the visa application process to vent their anger.  I will be happy to approve constructive comments :-)

© 2013  Angela Carson.  All rights reserved.  Do not reproduce any part of this article without the author’s permission.

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