VISA PROBLEMS

1047186-Cartoon-Traveler-Holding-A-Passport

“We’ll be landing in approximately twenty minutes.”

The voice of the co-pilot trailed off as he switched frequencies to listen to the conversation between pilot and air traffic controller at Mumbai international airport, in what was then known as the city of Bombay. Back in the rear of the plane I joined other passengers who were making last minute entries on immigration forms. The line titled visa needed special attention and I’d waited to retrieve my passport until the last minute to get those details.

I’d been thinking of this last trip to India where I was to orientate my replacement after transferring to Singapore, and it was with regret I realized I may never return. We’d moved to Singapore for the sake of our children’s education at an expatriate school, but would never forget friends left behind, or the many years of happy assignment there.

I’d cleared immigration and customs in this airport many times past and knew the procedures almost by heart. As I thought of the complicated entry requirements in force at that time a strange foreboding came over me. Taking out my visa again I took a more careful look. This stamp was different to the usual, and I suddenly experienced fear it wouldn’t get me past immigration officials.

The alarming reality was the next stopover was Teheran, and if I wasn’t permitted entry the airline would most likely start me on a return journey from there. This was the middle of the revolution so no tourist would voluntarily make a stopover in Teheran at that time.

What could anyone do fifteen minutes before landing? Such problems were quite beyond my ability to solve, and I rapidly assessed my options. Finally, I had to admit there was no way I was going to be able to get out of this fix. A miracle would be needed.

In those days arrival at Bombay airport was a test of fortitude and skill. In the distance were immigration counters, and in between a jam packed crowd of arrivals. Glancing around I noted the skill of those who’d passed this way before. They eased through the crowd at amazing speed using the right elbow to prepare a way much as the bow of a ship slices its way through an ocean. I’d developed these skills over time and made my way forward. You could tell new arrivals by their confused looks and their peculiar spinning motion as a surging crowd caused them to revolve on the spot.

It was late evening and the immigration official looked exhausted and ready for bed after processing countless numbers of people on his shift, but he went through procedures with amazing precision. It was obvious my visa puzzled him, but he didn’t want to admit it as it was obvious I’d been granted entry many times before. He searched the pages of my passport over and over trying to reconcile this obvious difference; then suddenly made his decision. The passport was stamped, and I was in! I suspected he’d made an error of judgment, but who can argue with a miracle?

But the story does not end with that miracle. After completing my orientation assignment it was time for me to leave Bombay and return to Singapore.

Kasakai! I greeted the immigration official in the Marathi language and he smiled in appreciation. It was unusual for a foreigner to greet him in his own language and that set him at ease. However he had a job to do and he began the routine of flipping pages to see who I was, where I’d been and whether there was any special reason to deny my exit.

His eyes lifted in surprise, “Where’s your visa to enter the country?”

I pointed to the only visa stamp I had and waited apprehensively for the outcome.

“That’s not a visa!”

Well I gave the only answer I could give under the circumstances. “Then why did immigration let me in?”

Now that was a difficult question and my new immigration friend trudged unhappily to his superior officer’s cubicle to get instructions. The officer peered around the corner at me and threw up his hands in a gesture of frustration. Another troublesome foreigner! When would they learn? He pushed my immigration friend out of his office. This was a decision he would have to make all by himself. His superior didn’t want to be troubled with the issue.

My visibly shaken immigration friend returned to his desk. He would have to deal with this situation without any higher up support.

“You’ll have to go to the Central Government immigration office down town tomorrow and get a visa to enter India,” he said.

“I don’t have money to do that, and my permission to stay here has expired this evening,” I replied.
“Perhaps you should deport me as an illegal entrant? I said hopefully.

Once again my immigration friend returned to his superior’s office to seek counsel. I saw the arm waving him away once again.

He returned, sat at his desk and looked unhappily at my passport. Reaching for his departure stamp he thumped it down on my passport. “Don’t ever enter India again on this stamp,” he declared with finality.

“No sir, I won’t,” said I in my most humble voice.

I rushed to my departure gate and sat down thankful he’d been kind enough to exercise his authority and help me out of a difficult situation. Miracle number two had been experienced on that trip.

What did I learn from that experience? Never take a visa stamp for granted. Make sure it will not only get you into the country of your destination, but out again as well.

“© Copyright Ian Grice 2014 All rights reserved”

22 Comments Add yours

  1. All’s well that ends well, but sometimes those visa processes can get so complicated nobody seems to really know what the deal is and you’re really relying on making a good impression at the gate. Glad you were able to!

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    1. I’m so glad not to have to fill in all those forms any more. It seems I spent much of my life with a pen and mindless forms with microscopic writing to fill in by the dim light of an aircraft seat light. Possibly why I need to have glasses to read now. lol. Loved our time in Sin-ja-pur.

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      1. I love the way a lot of countries are trying to streamline the process now. Just waiting for the visa-on-arrival process in India to be extended to Australian passport holders. That’ll be a good day!

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      2. I guess that will only happen when Australia does the same for Indians.

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  2. Madhu says:

    Phew!! Sounds like a close shave! Imagine the exciting stories you would have to tell us if things hadn’t ended well! 🙂

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    1. I may have enjoyed the hospitality of the Mumbai government prisons on that occasion. lol

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  3. Mags Corner says:

    Whew!! That must have been a great relief when it was all done. You sure had some experiences in all your travels sweet Ian. Glad that one worked out for you. Hugs

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    1. Yes there are many times when I had no idea how I was going to get out of the situations faced. The good news is I survived and have happy memories to fall back on.

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  4. Eric Alagan says:

    I can well imagine how you must have felt both flying in and trying to get out.

    About 10 years ago, on my second trip to Hanoi, I had a close call. On my way out to catch my flight back to Singapore, I realised I had lost the immigration card. First time it ever happened to me as I’m very particular about such matters. Now, Vietnam might be part of ASEAN but they are still a communist country.

    The guy across the counter turned livid and kept demanding for my embarkation card – the decibels raising with every sentence. I was the center of attention as every passenger and official in the concourse focussed on me.

    Something happened. Perhaps I was tired after a gruelling trip and pissed at being shouted at.

    Seeing the man stutter in poor English, I raised my voice and demanded to know how and why did they let me in, in the first place.

    Silence!

    I took him completely off guard. He hurriedly pushed a blank card my way and asked in softer tones to fill in the card. He then backdated and stapled the card in my passport – tore it off, stamped and waved me through.

    I made sure I was well in the waiting room of Singapore Airlines before I burst out in relieved laughter.

    You were lucky because knowing bureaucracy, matters could have turned nasty.

    Have a great weekend, Ian.

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    1. I remember my trips to Saigon and Hanoi. What a difference. Even under Communism Saigon was a bustling city of commerce and industry. Hanoi by contrast was locked in a past era and shoddy. Yes you are right. Things could have got nasty and only a wad of cash under the counter may have solved the problem. We were both lucky! Back in the 1970s when I could only get a 24 hour stopover visa for Yangon I was always nervous going in and out and hated being followed every where I went.

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  5. jstansfeld says:

    Great story Ian. I loved the phrase “test of fortitude and skill’ so true at Mumbai airport. Your story is expertly told and delivers the right amount of anticipation and stress – congratulations. I used to have two passports (one UK and one USA) but its a dangerous business letting an official see both!
    I suspect that your story will spore a number of like adventures on the net.
    Cheerio, Jane

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    1. Oh yes, there were other expatriates I worked with who had dual citizenship and passports. They were very careful which one was used each time in entry and exits. A Brit passport will get you into some countries with less problems and a US passport is best for others. I’ve only been hassled with an Australian passport once, and that was on a tour of Hungary.

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  6. Jane Thorne says:

    I know that stress Ian, and it makes for a good story in retrospect, but at the time it’s white hair inducing… 🙂

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    1. The thought of ending up in Tehran in the middle of a revolution did not appeal to me. lol

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  7. I am delighted that was the worst of it. Interesting though you were granted something different than normal, did you ever find out why or were you simply to happy to be not held over to investigate? I would have been too curious.

    In the end, the officer using his judgment did the best thing possible I think.

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    1. The visa system at that time was very confusing. I did have a visa for that trip but it only signified that I was entitled to another stamp which I’d forgotten to get. Usually for quick trips in and out of the country they gave me a proper visa. I guess that was what fooled the guy on entry as he could see I have proper visas for dozens of trips in and out of India on that passport so it was obvious I was not considered a treat to the country. lol.

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  8. cardamone5 says:

    This sounds very familiar. Although I’ve never traveled as far or as exotic as India, I did experience having my familiarity of being in a country I knew well: Greece, badly shaken. My passport was stolen after a six week archeological dig. I was taking the cheaper bus from the Athens domestic to international terminals (which were across town from each other) when I had my passport along with all my id and $ stolen from my purse while I was securing my huge duffel bag on the back of the bus. It was only through a miracle (involving cross Atlantic calls on my behalf, a lecherous cab driver and a delayed flight) that i made it back. Maybe I should write a blog entry about this. Thanks for your entertaining story and the idea.

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

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    1. I would like to read your story. Each country has its particular entry stress level. I have taken enormous precautions as I travelled the world to try and protect my belongings. However airlines have lost me baggage several times, my briefcase was taken at the check out counter of the safest city in the world, Singapore, and I caught a guy in Colombo flicking my gold pen. There are plenty of stories to tell when one travels.

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  9. billgncs says:

    man – that was a good turn!

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    1. I can assure you I was under major stress during that event. lol

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      1. billgncs says:

        my daughter had a similar experience in Germany coming back after a semester overseas. She said she played the “dumb American” and finally he shook his head in exasperation and let her go.

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      2. Believe me dumb has worked for me in many places and cases. lol

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