Many Indian visa applicants are still exposing themselves to exploitation and extortion by using brokers to get their visas processed, despite the application process no longer requiring an e-token or online appointment number.
Even though the Indian High Commission relaxed the e-token rule eight months ago by allowing visa applicants to walk-in, Facebook has become a popular haunt for brokers and agencies who claim they can get visas processed without an appointment or an interview.
Rehenuma Khatun, 36, wanted to accompany her father to India for his cancer treatment but after her brother applied to be his attendant, she was left needing an individual visa. Instead of going through the high commission, she decided to contact a broker who was recommended online.
“I handed him my passport and he told me to pay him Tk1,000 through bKash, promising that my visa would be ready in two days. A week later, an unidentified man called and demanded I pay Tk5,000 if I wanted my passport back,” she said.
A screenshot of a post by LZN Professionals claiming to get a medical visa with a doctor's appointment for Tk1000
“In a state of panic, I called the broker’s number, which was obviously switched off. I paid the money they demanded and got my passport through a messenger in two days, without a visa. I just ended up wasting a lot of time and money for nothing.”
The Indian Visa Application Centre clearly states that since 1 February 2017, all Bangladesh travelers with confirmed air, bus or rail tickets to India can make use of the scheme for walk-in tourist visas at all nine Indian Visa Application Centres (IVACs) in Bangladesh.
The rule change meant that in addition to the IVAC located in the Mirpur area of Dhaka, Bangladeshi travellers to India for the past eight months have also been able to use the walk-in facility at IVACs in Rajshahi, Rangpur, Sylhet, Chittagong, Khulna, Jessore, Mymensingh and Barisal.
At all centres, appointment dates are not required.
The Attaché of Press, Information and Culture at the Indian High Commission, Ranjan Mondal, used his own Facebook page to warn people about fake visa application pages on the social networking site. He specifically pointed out pages called Minfa Travels, LZN Professionals and India Visa e-token Service.
A screenshot of a post by Minfa Travels advertising its Indian visa processing details
“These pages are completely fake and have no connection to the Indian High Commission,” he posted. “They cannot arrange a visa without an interview by an authority from the visa application centre. And that too claiming to arrange a visa in just two days is absolutely impossible. They are just trying to get rich by cheating people.”
The Dhaka Tribune found that LZN Professionals on Facebook was offering a one-year visa in just 10 days for a price of Tk6,000, promising that an applicant would not need to visit the Indian Visa Application Centre.
They also claimed to be able to process three-year and five-year multiple visas in just 20 days for Tk40,000 and Tk50,000 respectively.
The Dhaka Tribune called the number provided on the page and spoke to a man named Mohammad Asad, who identified himself as the owner of the company.
“We make sure Indian visa applicants do not need to go to the embassy for a visa,” he said. “We collect their passports and all other necessary documents directly from their homes and return it to their houses once their passport has been stamped with a visa.”
According to Mohammad Asad, his company is not a travel agency or a visa agency but a student consultancy for student visa.
“We charge Tk8,000 for getting a visa within a week. We take a first installment of Tk3,000 when we collect the passport and Tk5,000 when we deliver the passport. We do this with a percentage guarantee,” he said.
Companies such as LZN Professionals take advantage of first-time travellers who are usually unfamiliar with the visa process.
A screenshot of a post by LZN Professionals claiming to process India tourist visas within two days for a fee of Tk500
Rifat Khan, a university student, wanted to visit India with his friends and contacted a company claiming to expedite the visa process in an advertisement online.
“They first asked me to bKash Tk500 in order to get the visa without an interview at the visa centre. So I did, and for two weeks they did not answer my calls. Finally, I gave up and applied for the visa directly,” Rifat said.
India is one of the most popular countries for Bangladeshi travellers, with data from the Indian government’s Ministry of Tourism showing 1.37 million Bangladeshis visited in 2016.
This equated to a rise of 21% from 2015, and meant Bangladeshis topped the list of most foreign visitors to India for the first time, overtaking the United States.