We are spending Christmas in India this year. It’s time for Sonali to meet Sasmita’s family. But visiting India requires a visa.
I’ve received multiple Indian visas in the last 10 years. The process requires many documents but is straightforward. I thought it would be simple this time as well.
I could not have been more wrong.
The Indian government contracted out their visa services to a company called Cox and Kings. To secure a visa, you must start an application on their website. I began the form and answered the question about where I was born. That brought another question, ‘what was your previous nationality?’ I chose India and then came two new questions.
‘Have you renounced your Indian citizenship?’ and ‘Do you have a Certificate of Renunciation from the Embassy of India?”The answer to both questions was ‘no’.
In January 2017, the Indian government changed the rules. India no longer allows dual citizenship. If anyone has ever held an Indian passport no matter how long ago, they must renounce their citizenship and turn in their passport.
The application asked if I possessed my original Indian passport. I don’t have it, which required a sworn Affidavit of its loss.
I was born in 1979 and received an Indian passport in 1980 when I was adopted to the US. It was only valid for six months. I’ve never considered myself an ‘Indian Citizen’ since I left India when I was one year old. My Indian passport says my birth name, Joseph. But no middle or last name is listed.
I’m 38 years old. My Indian passport expired 37 years ago. In 1981 I became a Naturalized citizen and legally changed my name from Joseph to Adam.
The Indian government was refusing me a 10-Year Tourist Visa unless I renounced my Indian citizenship.
I thought the situation was lunacy, but it got worse.
The application asked questions about my birth mother and father. Again, I don’t know anything about them. After finishing the online forms I printed them and realized a problem.
I wrote ‘NA’ in the last name field for all the questions about my Indian origins, and the application program had automatically input ‘Bryant’, my legal last name.
Both the Affidavit of Loss and the Renunciation Certificate said ‘Joseph Bryant.’
That has never been my legal name.
A bureaucratic nightmare was unfolding.
I called C&K multiple times explaining my dilemma, but they said it would be ok. They encouraged me to write an explanatory note to the Indian Embassy describing my unique conundrum. As sweet as they were on the phone, I knew they were clueless. It was going to be a huge problem.
The Affidavit of Loss form must be notarized. However, because ‘Joseph Bryant’ is not my legal name, I was unable to do so. Notaries cannot process documents if the person is not using their legal name for liability purposes. Without a notarized Affidavit, I could not submit my paperwork for an Indian Visa.
In addition to the Affidavit and the Renunciation forms, I presented documentation of my legal name change, proof of Indian origin, my Naturalization certificate, and provided my parents’ names, birth dates, and place of birth.
Naturally, I used my adoptive parent’s information, because I know nothing about my biological parents. The web application kept giving me errors. If I indicated I was a former Indian citizen, why were my parents US nationals, with no mention of their Indian nationalities?
It was as if the Indian government never considered the possibility that an Indian national infant would be adopted by US citizen parents and visit India later.
Stuck in notorious Indian paperwork purgatory, my frustration grew daily.
I went to my visa appointment, bringing all the documents needed. I included the unnotarized Affidavit and hoped to explain my situation to the Visa officer, wishing for the best.
As expected, they would not accept the application without the notarized Affidavit form. I reiterated my problem with the name and the impossibility of the form being notarized using a non-legal name.
Expressing my frustration, I told them that this was their problem because I had followed every direction, there was nothing else I could do.
The visa officer called his supervisor, and I explained the problem to him. After listening to my story he told me to wait and quickly returned with a hard-copy hand fillable Affidavit of Loss form.
I wrote ‘Joseph’, left the last name blank and got the Affidavit notarized. Returning to the processing center an hour later they accepted my application.
I had pleaded with the phone representatives for hours about sending a blank form to fill out, rather than using their web form. They repeatedly told me it was a computer program issue. After showing my displeasure in person with the process, voila! I received a blank hand-fillable form. Though the saga was complete, the process left a bitter taste.
60 hours I spent, securing a visa, between filling out applications, resubmitting paperwork, explaining my situation over the phone and traveling back and forth between my work and the Cox and Kings processing center.
The victory was eventually mine, but not without a huge amount of effort and energy. I was once again reminded how lucky I am to live in the United States because that paperwork maze is not the norm here, but is well-known in India.