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British tourists cancel trips en masse for want of visa: India denies report

A half-baked British media report has laid the 'blame' at the Indian High Commission's door for the assumed losses of the British tourists, who have en masse cancelled India trips for want of visas. In the first place, why one must book tour package and then look for visa in a busy season? Because that has been the practice with the tour operators and nothing new. They refund money if visa is not comimg. However, the article is silent on this and implicates the mission alleging it changed the visa rules, while that is contrary to the fact. The UK report, duplicated in India mindlessly, has defamed the Indian High Commission. However, there are some missing links!

LONDON, Oct 12: Thousands of British tourists have "cancelled" their trips to India as they could not apply for and get the visa before their scheduled departures for the current season. It has been reported by a section of British media that a new rule introduced by the Indian High Commission in London made it difficult to get the visa on time. The new rule required Britons to present themselves in person at visa centres to apply for the tourist visas, the half-baked report said. Besides, no slots for appointments are available for two months as there is a lot of rush with the tourist season having started, especially after a two-year break due to the covid pandemic.

The report has portrayed the High Commission as giving the tourists hell. But what is the reality? The original report in the British press was not actually done and dusted as it is replete with many a contradiction and lacks clarity, raising a dust of uncertainty among the travellers. The report suspected to be planted or yellow in nature has also been blindly replicated by the Indian press, confounding the tourists further. This, for one, led the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) to tell its partners that charters scheduled to land in November and December have been cancelled as tourists failed to get a visa on time.

In the first place, the report at the outset talks of the heavy cancellations and blames the High Commission. But why someone in his senses book a flight before getting a visa? Well, that is the practice among the travel operators to book flights and hotels in advance to ensure availability and they also guarantee money back if the visa is not coming on time! On this presumption, the cancellations of tour packages is not news at all for the media to highlight except for the high volume due to the seasonal rush. Therefore, the report looks like half-baked or even malicious.

The report is not only silent on this practice but also lays the 'blame' at the High Commission's door for the assumed losses of the British tourists, concocting a sensational report.

It blames the Hgh Commission, accusing it of sudden changes in the visa application rule, as the cause for the cancellations even as these no-cost cancellations are not a new phenomenon.

High Commission statement

On the other hand, the High Commission asserted in a press release that the rule requiring in-person application at a visa centre after taking an appointment was always there and that there is no change of rule! There is no way doubting the veracity of the official statement.

It said, the "High Commission of India emphasises that M/s VFS Global Services is the only authorised outsourcing service provider for India-related passport/visa/ and consular services in the UK. As per established procedure, individual visa applicants are, and have always been, required to submit visa applications at the VFS centres in person.

"Applicants can book online appointments for submission of visa applications by visiting https://www.hcilondon.gov.in/appointment_home/ and for information on visa procedure please visit https://www.hcilondon.gov.in/page/general_visa- information/ ," the press release stated last Friday.

Why investigation!

But then what prompted the High Commission recently to send out automated messages to British passport holders reminding them of the rule of in-person applicartion for visa?

This has not been clarified except that an official investigation has begun into some unauthorised agents collecting visa applications and money for quick delivery of visa.

The press release admitted that unauthorised agents and individuals were illegally charging fees and collecting visa applications for submission at VFS centres and that the matter is being investigated.

At nine visa processing centres (VFS) in Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Cardiff, Edinburgh, central London, Hounslow, Leicester and Manchester all appointments were fully booked till November 18.

At the same time, VFS Global said it insisted that travellers must be present in person as a high number of errors had been made by third-party visa companies, indicating that something fishy had been going on.

VFS has also therefore discontinued the practice of engaging sub-agents to expedite application processing as they have done a hotchpotch of the work.

As the High Commission is responsible for the actions of the authorised VFS, why is it not coming forward to clear the confusion and muddle.

Although the half-baked British media report has no head or tail, and cannot be taken at face value, it has become clear that something has gone wrong somewhere!

Some missing links?

Speculations and e-visa demand

The UK media also claimed that visa reciprocity issues between the two countries could be behind the reported visa problem fabricated by it, especially as Home Minister Suella Braverman had a dissenting voice over the ramifications of a recently-proposed free trade deal.

Travel agencies have, meanwhile, lost no time to avail themselves of the opportunity that presented itself before them to press their demand to extend India's e-visa system to the UK too. Post-covid, India has resumed e-visa for citizens of 156 countries, but not the UK and some others. E-visa is obtained totally online.

The Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) has urged the Indian Ministries of Tourism, Home Affairs and External Affairs requesting them for restoration of E-Visa for UK, Canada and other countries as maximum foreign tourists travel to India from these countries.

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