Friday, August 22, 2008

Getting Visa at Mumbai Consulate

As many of you would know, I recently went through the visa experience. Except for intense moment of irrational panic, the process was smooth as butter. Of course, I was applying for a student's visa and there is not much that can go wrong there.

The visa day began early in the morning at 5:30. I did my morning routine and checked out of the hotel at around 6:15. The reason I had to check out was that Mumbai hotels have a check out time of 10:00 AM and I was not sure I'd be back by this time. I then took a taxi to Mumbai Central where I put my luggage, including my cell phone into the railway cloak room. Cell phones are not allowed at the consulate and you have to make your own arrangements to leave yours out.

I then took a taxi to the consulate which is only a 10 minutes distance from Mumbai Central. I reached there a little before 7:00 AM. The first set of interview letters indicate 7:30 as the start time but there already was a huge crowd at the consulate. This included not only the applicants but also their family members. The atmosphere was tense, and everyone appeared slightly frightened.

I joined the queue. There were two students standing in front of me. A girl and a boy. The boy was dressed all in formals and even wore a tie. I suddenly became very conscious of my own t-shirt and jeans. I looked around. Everyone was dressed in formals. My own screwed up reasoning (this isn't really an interview, just an appearance at a govt. office to get something done) had led me to my casual attire. I wondered for a moment if this would jeopardize my chances of getting a visa.

The girl in front of me had a three page print out in her hands titled “Frequently Asked Visa Questions”. She was busily cramming these up. Again, I wondered if I was under prepared for the interview.

They started letting people in at 7:15 but it was a long queue and I got in only at 7:40. Went through the security check and the fingerprinting. Then waited patiently for my token number to be called. Fortunately the waiting area was air conditioned. :)

My number was called at 8:20. Four people had been called together at the same counter. The person in front of me entered with a subservient “may I come in sir” and spent a lot of time animatedly explaining himself as the consular officer became somewhat agitated. This scared me. No good to have the consular officer in a bad mood.

I myself entered without any formalities and just said a polite 'hi'. The officer started with the usual questions. “Why do you want to study in the US?”, “Which university are you going to?”, “What are the other universities you'd applied to?”, “What degree is this going to be?”, “Where did you do your bachelors from?”, and “Who is going to pay for this?”.

I don't see why those questions would require any sort of preparation. He didn't even ask me if I was going to come back or not. (I guess with Indian students they just assume otherwise.)

I was out at 8:40. Called up people at home to tell them I'd got the visa.

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