Source: Global Times Published: 2017-10-26
○ Following the Doklam border standoff, Chinese students are reporting that they cannot get their India visas renewed, leaving them stranded there
○ Many Chinese students currently studying in India decry India`s notorious red tape,which erodes their enthusiasm to the country
○ Without an Indian visa extension, Chinese cannot rent apartments, travel, book hotels or even leave
Li yuan (pseudonym), a 30-something Chinese national, walked out of the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) in the Indian state of Maharashtra, disappointed as usual. The reply she once again received for her long-gestating visa extension was still "pending."
Li relocated to India in March of this year to start a Master`s degree program there. Over the months, in addition to her studies, she has had to juggle adapting to the local culture, language and environment while ensuring enough time for daily communication with her family and young children back in China. All of that she can handle quite capably, but the one thing that continues to keep knocking her down is the status of her visa.
"It became much harder for Chinese to get a visa extension in India right after the border standoff in June," said Li, who wants to disguise her identity for safety concerns.
She first applied for the visa in April, however, when she applied later in the year for another extension, what she got instead was an indefinite delay.
Visas for Chinese students in India have become a hot topic in recent months following the Doklam standoff in June. India removed its trespassing troops from the Chinese territory of Doklam in late August.
According to the former president of the Chinese Student Union in India, surnamed Wu, Li`s situation is now quite common.
"Most Chinese students` visa applications have been `pending` since the border tension. Obtaining and renewing visas has always been a challenge for Chinese students in India, but things became much harder recently," said Wu, adding that he believes India`s Ministry of Home Affairs is responsible for the delays.
There are over 100 Chinese students currently in India, with a majority living in the cities of New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Pune, Mumbai and Bangalore, according to Wu. Based on current procedures, students from the Chinese mainland may only apply for a three-month visa to India before they leave China. Once there, they must renew their visa if they want to continue their studies.
"They always tell me that all my documents are in New Delhi, so they can do nothing about it," Li told the Global Times. "No one here takes responsibility, and no one cares."
Even local visa service agents and companies, which charge high service fees, are not willing to take Chinese clients as it is "too hard for a Chinese to get visa," said Li.
Foreign nationals submit their documents at the Foreigners Regional Registration Office in India. Photo: Courtesy of Coco
Over and over again
Li and other Chinese students like her face the single-most bureaucratically complex aspect of expat life in India. Without a valid visa, they cannot continue renting apartments, they cannot travel or even book a hotel - all things that "undocumented foreigners" in India are prohibited from doing.
Likewise, CoCo, a 20-something Chinese student, arrived in India enthusiastic about immersing herself in the culture and beginning school there, but has gradually become disenchanted by India`s notorious red tape.
"It was really a distressing process and I was surprised by their irresponsibility and inefficiency," said CoCo, who applied for an extended stay months before starting her Master`s program, following a four-month language course.
"I was really in a rush to get my visa renewed, so that I could continue enrolling in other courses at my school, but they always told me to come back in 10 days, then another 10 days after that, over and over again," she said.
According to CoCo, in China it only takes two or three days to get an Indian visa, presenting a sharp contrast to how administrative work is handled in India.
Trapped in India
In order to continue her Master`s program, Coco had to fly back to China to apply for a new visa. However, getting her exit permit was yet another headache.
CoCo often had to go to the local FRRO in person to push them about her application, otherwise the staff members there simply would not even look at it. The FRRO officers also provided inconsistent and often incorrect advice, each contradicting the other, which further delayed the process.
Coco claimed that Chinese students must bribe FRRO personnel with cash if they want their application to be dealt with quickly. Her experience was echoed by many other Chinese students contacted by the Global Times.
"I waited all summer vacation, but only received my exit permit right after my course began. It influenced my studies badly," CoCo said. She added that on the day she went to the office to pick up her papers, she was forced to wait there for eight hours.
"I came to India to study, not skip classes every single day to apply for a visa," she said.
Indeed, returning home has become a luxury for Chinese students in India, including Bai Haoyue (pseudonym), who is studying on a one-year program in India. With a valid visa, Bai was able to fly to China for a family reunion in April and return to India.
However, in August a family emergency came up and she rushed to the local airport, where she was physically forbidden from departing by Indian immigration officials.
"The airport staff said I could not leave India because I didn`t have a registration document from the police. But days later, FRRO told me that I didn`t need such a document to leave," Bai said.
"It worries me that we cannot go back home even if there is an emergency. I feel we have lost our freedom," Li said. She has heard several similar examples where Chinese students` family members were sick or hospitalized but they were not allowed to return to help.
Blame it on Doklam
For most Chinese students coming from the Chinese mainland, a new visa is now required each and every time they wish to return to India.
"The FRRO staff in Mumbai know me well, so you can tell how many times I have been there," said Xu Yan (pseudonym), a college student who is afraid of revealing her real name for safety reasons.
Xu added that she feels like she is "being monitored" in India, as she must report to the local authority each time she returns.
As for a return visa, some cities have also changed the way they issue the document. For example, prior to the border standoff, a return visa could be issued locally in Pune, but now all documents must be sent to New Delhi for approval, according to Li.
"I think it reflects that the Modi government is reviewing Sino-India relations after the Doklam standoff, which has inevitably influenced diplomatic services, such as passports and visa services," said Song Dexing, director of Center for Strategic and International Studies in Nanjing Institution of International Relations.
According to Song, India`s multi-party political system has turned Sino-Indian relations into a cross-party agenda, which "puts further constraints on the Modi government`s diplomacy."
Song predicts that New Delhi will further put constrains on cultural, education and economic exchanges in order to display their "tough attitude" as a powerful state.
His analysis echoes Wu`s observations, who found that Chinese businessmen in India are also facing visa complications. Many of his friends there have had their business visas rejected recently or have been instructed to attend a face-to-face interview during the application process, which rarely happened before the border standoff.
"I have asked my Indian friends working in China if they felt any tension here following the Doklam standoff, but none had. In contrast, those Chinese in India can really feel its negative influence," said Wu.
"Visa issues have always been a problem deterring the development of bilateral relations between China and India, not just a direct result of the recent border standoff," said Lin Minwang, a professor at Institute of International Studies, Fudan University.
Lin explained that India`s Ministry of Home Affairs is, comparatively speaking, considered "not that friendly" toward Chinese applicants.
Lin believes that the India-China border standoff will be "a turning point" for the relationship between the two countries, but said it is hard to say which direction it will go.
As to the recent appointment of a new Indian ambassador to China, Gautam H. Bambawale, Lin said this does not guarantee softer diplomacy.
According to those Chinese students in India contacted by the Global Times, their enthusiasm for India is quickly eroding.
Many said that they will simply quit their study plans in India if their visa extensions are rejected again, even if they already paid their full tuition fee.
The Global Times contacted India`s Ministry of Home Affairs, the Foreigners Regional Registration Office in New Delhi, the India Visa Support Center and the Indian Embassy in Beijing repeatedly for comment, but did not receive a single response.
Lin Minwang is also a visiting fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.