Tina Mohandas, a marketer and a music academic from Pune, was all set to make a trip to London for her graduation ceremony. Following this, she intended to join her friends in Berlin. But it was not to be. She applied for a priority UK visa and received it more than a month ahead of her travel. This gave her sufficient time to apply for a Schengen visa through Germany.
However, it has been weeks since then and Mohandas has spent her days refreshing the VFS Global (Visa Facilitation Service Global) page for an appointment to submit her documents and biometrics. "There are no appointments available across the 16 VFS Global centres in the country. After a few attempts, I got through the customer care at the German consulate, only to be told that once appointments are available, they will be updated on the website," she says. Her travel scheduled for July 5, seems unlikely.
The Schengen visa application also required her to attach confirmed return tickets and a full itinerary. "I've lost nearly Rs 40,000 in the process," she says adding that there was no indication of delayed visas or appointments on the VFS or German consulate website. She discovered this lack only after making the visa payment, filling forms, and arriving at the appointment stage.
Such seems to be the case for several like her awaiting Schengen tourist visas to meet family or plan holidays. While visas are delayed and appointments scarce for most countries, a few like Germany and Greece, are facing unprecedented delays of nearly two months at times.
"Consulates are short-staffed. There is a backlog of visas from the pandemic and to top it all, a sudden wave of revenge travel. Consulates say they are seeing a record number of tourist visa applications," says Sushil Aggrawal, Associate vice president, Riya Travels and Tours India. He adds, "In May, for the first time since the pandemic, we have witnessed pre-COVID numbers for bookings".
Aggrawal confirms that it is the lack of appointments that is the primary reason for delay in visas followed by overburdened consulates. He admits though that processing for Schengen visas through Switzerland, Spain and France, has been quite seamless.
"There has been an unprecedented uptick in outbound travel demand from India to many parts of the world this summer. Given the extremely high pent-up demand, this was expected with the opening of international borders and easing of travel restrictions," a spokesperson of VFS Global told BOOM in a statement.
As a result, the visa facilitation service centre say they are experiencing high volumes of visa applications coupled with limited appointment availability and stretched visa processing timelines from India. On an average, VFS Global is receiving approximately 20,000 applications from India in a day.
The application number, they say, is close to the volumes recorded during pre-pandemic peak season.
"Information on visa decision timelines is provided by respective client governments on their websites," the VFS global spokesperson said adding that VFS Global manages only the "administrative and non-judgmental aspects of the visa application process and follows the standard operating procedure of processing applications".
Prateek Panwar, a marketing professional based in Bangalore, travelled to Mumbai for a visa appointment owing to unavailability in his own city. "I was to make it to Barcelona for a work meeting on July 14. I completed my application through the BLS International website (Schengen visas through Spain are processed here) and discovered that the first available appointment to submit my documents at the Bangalore centre was July 14," he says.
"Upon calling the customer care centre, I was advised to book one through the Mumbai centre at the earliest. I found an appointment for the next day. After a flight out and a few hours of waiting and jostling with crowds of applicants, I submitted my documents and received my visa within the week. The travel did cost me some extra money," he adds.
Akhlaque Qureshi of A1 Travels, Mumbai, tells us that appointments for Schengen visas through most countries within the region, are currently unavailable. "It is taking 25 days or more to get an appointment and then a few more for a decision on the visa. There are no appointments available for France, Germany, and Poland. For Sweden, appointments are possible in two to three days," says Qureshi.
He advises those looking to travel to Europe to not plan before August, even though it may be after the summer vacations in schools and colleges.
Reji Philip, of Cosmos Travels, Mumbai, also recommends not booking flight tickets (especially non-refundable ones) unless the application process specifies it. "It's the peak time for our business during the summer holidays but we are not able to do much with these visa delays," he adds.
Reddit threads are full of accounts of those with delayed visas for both the Schengen region and UK.
UK Visa Delays
Many people have also faced delays with UK visas. Shilavadra Bhattacharjee, who applied for a work visa to the UK in early March only received it on May 16. "I had heard about delayed visas owing to refugee visas for Ukrainians being prioritised but had no idea it will take so long. There was no assistance from the UK home office, and we could only enquire about the status after 21 weeks," he says.
His parents due to travel to Estonia on June 13, are still awaiting their Schengen visa too.
For UK, it is possible to apply for a priority visa through VFS Global that costs Rs 23,247 in fees as opposed to the regular visa cost of Rs 10,111. The website states that the visa will be ready for collection if five days' time provided there are no complications.
However, when Mohandas arrived at VFS centre she was informed that the waiting period three to five days has now been changed to seven days. "I was told the website has not been updated. I may have not spent the extra money if I had known," she says.
Philip confirms that UK visas that were issued in a period of 15 days now take about six to seven weeks. "People are being forced to pay extra for the priority service," he says.
To facilitate the increasing revenge travel crowd over the summer, travel agents are now suggesting alternate destinations due to visa delays. "We suggest vacation spots that grant visa on arrival to Indian citizens like Singapore and Dubai. Those who insist on travelling to Europe, we suggest destinations like Turkey that offer visa on arrival to Indian citizens who have valid US visas," says Aggrawal.
Philip has also resorted to the same. "Since travel to Schengen countries may not be possible even in July, we offer packages to countries that have opened to travel for Indian recently such as Singapore and Thailand. Most people want to travel during these specified periods due to summer holidays in schools and don't want to wait till August," he says.
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