Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Renewing your Research Visa.

Good luck with that.

No, seriously, it can be done, but it is going to take more patience than you probably have after 12 months in India.

First, the good news for all you Fulbright people: the USIEF office will write you a letter that should help smooth things over with FRRO. Yes, FRRO. I'm afraid you have to go back there. You should take with you:
  • your own pen with black or blue ink
  • passport photos (take 4, just in case, but refer to my previous FRRO post for instructions on how to find a photo place near FFRO itself)
  • passport w/visa
  • photocopies of your passport and visa
  • FRRO registration book
  • photocopies of the first and last page of your FRRO registration book
  • Original letter from USIEF, recommending visa renewal
  • Photocopy of letter from USIEF
  • Letter from Indian university (JNU, DU, etc.) advisor recommending that your visa be renewed (THIS IS ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL)
  • Proof of residence (utility bill, C-Form, etc.)
  • Flight arrival information (I know, who cares, you've been in India 12 months, but they still want it)
  • 4000 INR
You know the drill. Compile all the copies into a pile to leave at FRRO. Get up early, try to be the first person in line at FRRO. I got there at 8:45 this time, and was about 12th in line, an almost perfect position. I was done by 10:30, so it was worth the early start. The paperwork you will be handed is similar to registration paperwork, and if you have all the proper items listed above, you should be golden. Take the USIEF phone number with you, though, just in case someone gives you trouble.

Okay, now the bad news for all you independent researchers, or people on something like a SSRC-IDRF. It's going to take you an extra day or two to renew your visa. Plan for a total of three days: 1 day to get letters from the U.S. Embassy and your advisor on campus; 1 day to visit the Ministry of Home Affairs; and 1 day for the FRRO.

This is what you need to do. Get a letter from the U.S. Embassy reconfirming your status as a researcher. Get a letter from your Indian university advisor recommending your visa renewal and noting your good research progress. Photocopy them. Then get up early and go to the Ministry of Home Affairs (Jaipur House on Mansingh Road, New Delhi) and take the following items:

  • your own pen with black or blue ink
  • passport photos (I honestly can't remember if I needed them, but it can't hurt to have them)
  • Original letter from U.S. Embassy
  • Photostat of letter from U.S. Embassy
  • Original letter from university advisor
  • Photostat of letter from university advisor
  • Original letter from home (U.S.) institution praising your work
  • Photostat of letter from home institution
  • Passport with visa page
  • Photostat of passport with visa page
  • FRRO registration book
  • Photostat of FRRO registration book
  • Proof of residence (utility bill, C-Form, etc.)

Compile all the copies together, these are what you will attach to the forms given to at MHA. You also need the originals, though, because the interview (see below) will ask to see them. If you forget to make a photocopy, don't worry, there is a copy station at the bottom of the stairs, only 1 INR/page.

When you get out of the autorickshaw at Jaipur House, the reception desk is in the little building to your right. Go in there and show your passport. This room has AC, but don't think you have it made, because this is only the reception hall. They will give you a number and tell you to go to the visa room. Go out of reception and into the complex to the office building to the left (ask the guards where to go). Wander into the building, look for stairs. The visa room is on the first (upper) floor. The copy station is right at the bottom of these stairs.

Generally, this part is hot and chaotic, even though the visa people follow a clear procedure. You will be given some paperwork with a number. Fill it out, and bring it back to the same desk. Eventually, some officers will come out and sit at the long desk at the side of the room, and start calling out numbers. You'd think people would wait until they heard their number, but no, the moment one number is called, there is a stampede. For this reason, I recommend sitting in a chair in the side room so you will already be there when the stampede happens. You might be tempted to sit in the larger visa room, where there is a hint of AC, but I think you will regret it when the chaos starts.

What happens is this: your number is called, and you go sit at the long desk for an interview. I never said a word during my interview, so I'm not sure why they call it that. An officer looks over all your photocopies, asks to see the originals, writes some mysterious notes, then tells you to come back at 4:30. Here is the frustrating part. You will come back at 4:30 as directed, and be handed a sealed envelope. This envelope you take to FRRO the next morning, along with all the documents/money listed above. DON'T OPEN THE ENVELOPE. I know, it's hard, because in that sealed envelope it either says "give this person a visa extension" or it says "deny this person's visa extension," and it would be lovely to know which it is before you stand in line at FRRO. But if the seal is broken, you will be denied your visa extension for certain.

In my case, I was recommended for a visa extension, and the less than two hours I then spent at the FRRO a miracle. I hope this description of the process bears equally good results for you.