us visa: For Indian tourists to the EU & US, all but visa is ready

Rajesh Sharma (name changed on request), a retired private sector executive staying in Gurgaon, is a worried man. It’s been almost a month since he applied for a Schengen visa to visit Greece and he still hasn’t received it. Sharma was to join a group tour that starts in Europe on May 29.

“I have paid close to $16,000 (excluding the cost of an air ticket), which is non-refundable. Even if I have to cancel and lose all the money I paid, I cannot go anywhere else because my passport is lying with the Greek embassy,” said Sharma. “My passport has 10-year valid multiple entry visas to the US, the UK and to Canada and I am someone who has been travelling to Europe every year until I couldn’t because of Covid induced international travel restrictions.”

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Like Sharma, scores of Indian travellers are finding their European travel plans stuck due to delay in appointment dates and long visa processing time at certain Schengen-country embassies.

Travellers and tour operators familiar with the matter said no appointment dates are available for this month and the next at many embassies. Visas for the US and Canada are also taking time, they said.

On Wednesday, Satbir Singh, founder and CEO of Thinkstr and writer of campaigns like “Incredible India” and “Bajaate Raho”, tweeted to @FranceinIndia, the official Twitter account of the ambassador of France, saying he is likely to miss Cannes Lions as the earliest visa appointment date available seemed to be after the fest.

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Jay Bhatia, vice-president of Travel Agents Association of India, said visas for Europe are getting extended by up to one month as some Schengen embassies are not operating fully.

“US, Europe and Canada visas are also taking time. The demand is high but there is no visa supply and no respite from the consulates. We have been told some of these consulates don’t have full-fledged teams in place post the pandemic and that they may have been given mandates to issue a certain number of visas only.

“People looking to travel next month are being shifted to other destinations such as Mauritius, Seychelles or Singapore. Air fares are also skyrocketing because of rising fuel prices,” he said.

A spokesperson for the embassy of Switzerland in India, replied to ET’s query on the matter saying that while there is an increase in visa applications, there is no delay at the embassy’s end. “The applicants should be aware of the turnaround time of 15 working days, as per the Schengen Codex. Despite the increased number of applicants, the Swiss Embassy in New Delhi remains as responsive in terms of visa issuance. As of this morning, applicants could book slots between May 31 and June 27, depending on the city in which they applied,” the spokesperson said.

But travellers who had booked some packages to Switzerland with tour operators this week in Delhi NCR for the second half of June said they have been told to shift their travel dates to July. An executive at an online travel platform said Europe group departures were now being pushed to August and September considering the delays.

Email queries sent to the embassies of France, Italy, Greece and the US remained unanswered as of press time.

Rajeev Kale, president and country head for holidays, MICE and visa at Thomas Cook (India), said that while the company is seeing a strong demand for Europe, led by Switzerland, France, Italy and Austria, visa challenges are resulting in a pushback on departure dates for India’s peak summer season.

“For customers unable to change their holiday schedules due to reopening of schools and work commitments, we are seeing an increased shift to destinations like Turkey, Egypt, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives and Mauritius,” he said. “From a long-haul perspective, Australia is emerging well. We expect to see US visa appointments opening up for travel later this year.”

Daniel D’Souza, president and country head, holidays at SOTC Travel said the company is advising its customers to plan their holidays in advance in order to avoid last minute visa disappointments.

“Customers can opt for short haul destinations like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia; island destinations like Maldives and Mauritius, and mid haul destinations like Turkey and Egypt,” he added.

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