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I'm Still Here

I'm Still Here

July 07, 2011

Like at NASA, everything in Indian bureaucracy must be at least triple-checked.

The Initial Shock (or 'Indian Bureaucracy At A Glance'):

Having been asked to leave India
, I was then denied exit from India at the point of my flight out of Mumbai.

I was denied exit because my visa had expired and I had no registration certificate or exit permit.

My visa had expired because my repeated requests for extension over the previous two years had disappeared into the black hole of the Home Ministry in Delhi, never to be seen or heard from again.

I had no registration certificate because months earlier it had been lost somewhere between Varkala police station and the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) for Thiruvananthapuram Rural.

I had no exit permit because when I visited the Foreigners Regional Registration Officer for the final time, and I asked him if there was anything else I needed to do, he said, “No.”

The Next Steps (or 'You've Got To Be Kidding Me'):

Standing outside the stony-faced immigration officer's office at the airport, I called the FRRO for Thiruvananthapuram Rural to see if he could do anything. “Why didn't you tell me you were leaving?” he demanded. It was he who told me a month or so earlier that I had to leave. “You should have called my office. Now you must come back to Kerala.”

A few calls to the incredibly helpful New Zealand Consulate, plus a morning at the Mumbai FRRO, revealed that it wasn't possible to get an exit permit from there and that I was indeed required to return to Kerala.

I spent the next two nights on a train travelling a windy 2000-kilometre route back to Kerala. As soon as I arrived, I took a rickshaw to the Thiruvananthapuram Rural FRRO where the officer assured me my exit permit would be ready within three days. Which meant I'd be in Mumbai on an overnight train in five, and winging my way back to New Zealand in six – all going to plan.

That pretty much brings us up to date.

The Emotions Involved (or 'Fugue'):

Over the course of the extra days in Mumbai, the journey back to Kerala, and sitting here in an absent friend's bare house in Varkala, fluctuating emotions have been the status quo.

There's been crushing disappointment, largely at not being able to see my family after two and a half years without (though it now appears that I will).

There's been confusion at having prepared to go back to New Zealand and be a New Zealander again (instead of a saip or a white man or an outsider) but instead needing to switch back into the foreigner mode I was quite ready to leave behind for a while.

There's been pragmatism, largely influenced by my wonderful Mumbai hosts, when confronted with this difficult set of circumstances.

And there have been warm fuzzies from the kind words offered by folks on Twitter and Facebook, and support from my dearly missed family.

Above all, since leaving the airport I've felt a constant sense of displacement, of unreality, like this shouldn't be happening right now. I barely remember sleeping and I eat and drink mindlessly. All the marionette strings have been cut.

The Responsibility (or 'An Existential Crisis'):

It's all mine.

It would be very easy to blame my sorry state of affairs on others, namely the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs and the FRRO for Thiruvananthapuram Rural, but the reality is that it was my trip home, not anybody else's. I needed to double- and triple-check every last detail to make sure I would be able to get on that plane.

I cannot reasonably expect the servants of an ineffective (at times impenetrable) system to hold my hand through any procedures. That system's attitude towards the majority of individuals, including small fry foreigners like me, is not one of disdain but one of supreme indifference. It simply does not share your plans, hopes and dreams. You have to make your own, and you have to make them happen.

Basically, I am an adult, and that means I have the power and responsibility to push my life in whatever direction I wish.

The Outcome (or 'Book's Closed?'):

Finances drained. Lessons learned. Life priorities re-established. When it's all over, I'll look back and see the whole painful saga as the final wake-up call India tried to give me. 


  • Ali
    12.04.13 06:23 PM
    I am also facing the exact same thing. here the local FRO said a provisional student visa cannot be extended. It can be converted to student visa by the permission from MHA.. And its been 3 months and like yours the matter has disappeared to the black hole of MHA.. I had to go back to my country in june and I think I also should apply for a exit permit. Do they also require a pass from MHA incase of exit permit!!
  • Rajpriya
    19.01.13 03:34 PM
    Try this website.

    Indian beaurocracy exercises zero tolerance towards human error. Indian govt. officers think and act differently to the rest of the world.

    You need to know they are purebred Indians.It's not their fault because its in their blood.

    A two hundred percent blood transfusion of a different group might help.
  • Want to Go Home
    Want to Go Home
    19.01.13 11:15 AM
    Hello! Wish I had found this page before I booked my flight back to Canada!! All I was told by the FRRO Delhi when I applied to extend my tourist visa was that I'd have to pay a penalty before I left, to come a few days before my flight. I book my flight, get to Delhi, and FRRO says they need 3 months to conduct an enquiry. I was starting work etc. + had a confirmed non-refundable flight booking, but that didn't matter in the slightest to FRRO. The head officer, Mr. Vimal Kumar said to me, "You've been bad, now you have to stay here." All I can say is I'm glad I'm not alone on this, thanks for posting! Does anyone have a link for the exit visa application? They sent me back to Moga city, Punjab, but they do not have any kind of service provider to do up the application, I'll need to take it in myself... Thanks. Desperately missing home.
  • Jay
    16.11.12 07:10 AM
    This is India for you. Here is a strategy, make a copy of your passport and visa, then leave the passport so that it is lost. Report to police it is lost. Go to your embassy for a new passport. Apply for exit visa at the FRRO - not exit permit. Will cost you more but you are out faster.
  • Sarah
    08.08.12 10:41 AM
    I'm going through a horrible visa experience in India (US citizen here). How many days did your exit visa last? As in, how many days after it was issued did you have to leave the country?
  • Lautaro
    13.04.12 12:53 AM
    Im going thru exactly the same thing... hopefully it has a positive outcome too.. thanx for sharing ur story!
  • Jannik
    09.01.12 08:25 PM
    Having lived in India for the past 8 months as a saip myself, I can absolutely relate to the hazzles surrounding bureaucracy in India. I've been on an employment visum working for an NGO in Kolkata, and now, having booked a flight home on the 23rd, wanted to explore India a little bit. My flight home is from Delhi, and I wanted to go to Andaman Islands and then directly to Delhi - but of course, rules and regulations state that you have to have your residential papers stamped at the FFRO office near your employers 3 days beforehand leaving. So I'm stuck here untill right before departure, knowing very well the catch of not getting this insidious stamp.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    28.12.11 01:21 AM
    Hi Chis, it definitely sounds like they're making fun of you at this point. Take a look at Bronwyn's link in the comment just above yours - some good advice there - and see if you can get hold of someone higher up in the chain. Generally, the higher you go, the more likely you are to see results.
  • Chis
    23.12.11 12:21 PM
    i face the same situation right now.. i been coming back and forth to the local FRO office here in Pune for the last 5 months.. not sure if they're just getting a kick out of it... they would always find something wrong with my documents, every time i go there... What's weird is that it will always be something new. which they didn't see before.. This has been the most frustrating thing that I had to go through in my life.. I'm stuck here for Christmas, without any assurance as to when my visa will be granted..
  • Bronwyn
    07.11.11 01:26 PM
    I hadn't seen this yet: thanks for tweeting it! I love the writeup, especially the cataloguing of all of the emotions surrounding gaining and losing visas and the right to be in India.

    The biggest difficulty for me was in being so committed to coming to India, and so emotionally involved in wanting to live here. Of course, all of that doesn't mean anything to official people. They can say haan or nahi on as arbitrary a basis as they choose, because they're in charge.

    I wrote about my challenges in gaining an Indian visa here:

    Part two will come in february when I have to get a new visa. Can't say I am looking forward to that.
  • Ram
    28.07.11 09:40 PM
    Were you able to make it out of India? Would be nice to read a follow-up article on the craziness of the Indian immigration authorities/FRRO
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    26.07.11 02:19 AM
    Hi Hilary - I did get it, then got back to Mumbai just in time for the bomb attacks. Literally the minute the first one went off, I was rolling in to Lokmanya Tilak Station.

    Still, my passage home was completely unaffected and I am now back in wintry NZ. Phew!

    The Mumbai FRRO is much, much better organised than the one I had to go to in Thiruvananthapuram - but still, I wish you good luck!
  • Hilary FG
    Hilary FG
    25.07.11 05:41 PM
    How did this turn out? Did you get the exit permit?? I am headed to FRRO tomorrow morning for my exit permit... *fingers crossed*
  • Cutting Kahlua
    Cutting Kahlua
    09.07.11 08:44 PM
    I am shocked at how our govt has behaved, and I am so sorry you had to go through this entire episode. I really pray this dumb rule gets scrapped. If this is to curb illegal aliens from entering India - it is definitely a very dumb law.
  • Slag
    08.07.11 12:32 PM
    Sharell, I'm totally holding you responsible if he doesn't make it *this* time!
  • Moon
    07.07.11 02:28 PM
    I love your non-judgemental tone... as you describe your ordeal. I'll of course put myself into a dissociative fugue and pretend that it doesn't really happen. ;D Have a safe trip ... whenever you manage to step out of this Hotel California-esque experience...
  • Bhavesh
    07.07.11 02:21 PM
    Sad to hear this.Not sure if things have turned your way now,do let me know in case you need any support in Delhi (I reside in Gurgaon).
  • sharell
    07.07.11 01:11 PM
    Being Barn's Mumbai host, I got to see how horrible and stressful this incident was for him but he handled it with his usual outwardly calm demeanour. When he returns, I'll be personally inspecting his documents to make sure they are in order this time! He must get on that plane!
  • slag
    07.07.11 09:43 AM
    Some members of Barns' dearly-missed family (i.e. me) may have been less supportive than they could have been due to their disappointment at not getting to see him after all.

    For adding to his stress, they (I) apologise.
  • V.
    07.07.11 06:09 AM
    I can only imagine how exhausted you are. I’m knackered and need stiff drink just from reading about it.

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