By Vera Anyagafu
Drawn to the concern shown by a number of Nigerian visa applicants, who alleged an increase in touting and defrauding at most embassies in the country, in addition to lack of measures by the embassies to ensuring these self-styled visa agents are checkmated, Saturday Vanguard carried out an investigation, which revealed that most of the embassies authorities have yet to come to terms with the misconception shown by visa applicants who, out of not getting themselves equipped with basic visa information, fall prey to the waiting hands of embassy touts who parade around embassies premises in the country.
With a dozen new cases reported, Vanguard authoritatively gathered that more than 80 per cent of visa applicants who are being preyed on, are those who refuse to follow the simply visa rule, and not understanding that there is no short cut to getting visa.
The unlucky fellows ignorantly fall into the hands of many of these highly sophisticated embassies touts and using convincing techniques, they quickly capture and heavily defraud desperate applicants, who could give anything to travel to desired countries of choice.
Advising Nigerians visa applicant of the need to equip themselves with the basic information that will guide their steps to procuring various countries entry permit, as well as ways to avoid falling prey to some self-styled visa consultants, First Secretary, Consular, Indian High Commission, Mr Sharad Srivastava, while detailing some of the measures the embassy has taken to streamline its visa process, at both the High Commission in Lagos and Abuja, said it has been an untiring battle to ensure a prompt and quick service to genuine visa applicants.
According to him, grappling with embassy touts and or agents, who often find ways and means to undermine the system is in progress.
“ A big step for us was to move to online appointment system, which too seems to have been compromised by touts/agents. Now, we are trying towards an online payment regime that, hopefully, would check touts/agents, and help genuine visa seekers”, Sharad said.
The High Commission of India (HCI) has taken a number of measures since early 2014 to streamline the visa processing, such as perfecting on the online appointment system, instituted in March 2014 to check proliferation of touts/agents, and assist genuine applicants.
Prior to the online system, applicants approached the HCI in Abuja and its office at Lagos and had to go through middlemen. The online system worked well initially, however, instances of its manipulation by touts/agents came to our notice. The modus operandi was to block dates in the system by fictitious entries, thereby denying genuine applicants early dates.
Checking such manipulation, the High Commission yet introduced a new measure of accepting visa applications between the hours of 9 am and 11 am on all working days at the Mission premises in Abuja and Lagos. The applications are scrutinized and processed.
This measure got widely publicized on the website and on big-boards positioned outside the Mission premises. In addition, the embassy relocated the visa scrutiny process in Abuja closer to the entrance gate in January 2015 to assist the old and infirm.
Applicants requiring urgent travel, like for conferences and medical care, are being attended to on the same day. Subsequently, substantial portion of the Mission’s visa is for medical purposes, and it maintains close contact with representatives of leading hospitals in India, and has sensitized them of the new arrangement clarifying that they could bring to our attention any urgent cases, which would be dealt with on priority.
Hospitals in India, at our instance, are already sending us a copy of their invitations to applicants to reduce processing time. To make the visa process more transparent, the Mission has also displayed the e-mail of First Secretary (Consular) prominently outside the Mission premises and a suggestion/complaint box in the consular premises is also available to encourage applicants to come forth with their grievances/suggestions.