Forty-one-year old Karan Kapur* started planning a trip to the U.S. last October to be able to visit his cousins during his son’s summer break this year, but unavailability of visa appointment means he has to wait until February next year.
“I was given a placeholder appointment for October 30 and 31 when I applied in February this year. But last week, I received an email informing me that the appointments stood cancelled, without any information on whether I will have to apply afresh. It was impossible to get any information from the website either, but following an update from the embassy on social media I tried again after a few days and now have visa appointments in February 2023,” Mr. Kapur says over telephone.
Though there has been an uptick in demand for international travel since the government removed curbs in March, unavailability of appointment slots for visa interviews as well as the long time taken to process visa applications has meant that some of the favourite destinations in the West such as the U.S. and many European countries like the U.K., France, Italy, Denmark and Greece are out of reach for many planning a summer break overseas after a gap of two years.
The U.S. embassy last week announced that in-person visa appointments would resume in September 2022, and that previously scheduled placeholders stood cancelled.
According to information sourced from tour operators, visa processing for the U.K. could take nine to 10 weeks, for Greece it could take 30 to 60 days, and for France one has to wait until the end of June if applying from cities like Delhi.
Appointments for Germany, Italy and Iceland are not available and Denmark has stopped accepting fresh tourist visa applications.
But there are countries that don’t have a long waiting period. Switzerland takes about seven to 10 days to process visa applications, Spain takes three to four days if you apply from Mumbai and so does France.
“As a result, many are forced to postpone their departure or travel to destinations where the wait for visa is not very long,” says Daniel D’Souza, president and country head, Holidays, SOTC Travel.
The visa chaos comes at a time international travel has seen a rapid growth. According to rating agency ICRA, it reached 72% of the pre-COVID level in May.
Mr. D’Souza says his company too has seen a month-on-month growth of 30% to 35% in bookings, and sales in the month of May reached 65% of the pre-pandemic levels.
“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, easing of travel restrictions and resumption of regular international flights from India in March 2022,” says a VFS Global spokesperson.
VFS is seeing approximately 20,000 applications from India in a day, which is close to the volumes recorded during the pre-pandemic peak season.
To cater to the demand for travel, Thomas Cook and its group company SOTC travel are wooing customers with attractive packages for short-haul destinations that either require no visa such as Indonesia or Seychelles, or offer visa-on-arrival such as Maldives, Mauritius and Thailand, or those like Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia that offer e-visa. Then there are also options like Turkey and Egypt which have a hassle-free visa process.