Photo by: Mechanical Turk, Flickr, Creative Commons
As the feverish heat of summer dissolves into the cool wash of monsoon rains, thousands of Indian school leavers and undergraduates will be joining another kind of queue: at passport and visa offices to fulfil their aim of higher studies abroad. This can almost be as intricate and nerve-racking an experience as exam finals; certainly, it will be an intense exercise in preparedness and paperwork. One missing piece of paper at the visa submission counter can push you back to the bottom of the line and bring harassed parents, college administrations and visa officials, crashing like a house of cards round you.
As the applicant’s parent and sponsor I was required to make visits to my bank, accountant and stock broker. It took much longer than my daughter or I imagined...
Perhaps a good way of summing up the procedure (and it can be an ordeal) is to describe what I went through as a parent (and financial sponsor) last August, when my daughter went up for her master’s degree at the London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE).
From Conditional Offer to Assured Place
Applications to top colleges in the UK and US are completed the winter before. Many colleges will make you a “conditional offer” dependant on your final school or college-leaving results when they are out. For the conditional offer to turn into an “unconditional offer”, i.e. an assured place at the college, can mean that you secure a first division. This is especially true of top-drawer British establishments such as Oxbridge, LSE, School of Oriental & African languages (SOAS) and also some American Ivy League colleges.
For the conditional offer to turn into an “unconditional offer”, i.e. an assured place at the college, can mean that you secure a first division.
Most Indian colleges are quite efficient nowadays at issuing provisional certificates of your division even if the actual breakdown of marks comes later. Once this has been submitted to the foreign college, applicants can often track their progress online; you can see your placement turn from “conditional” to “unconditional” within days. But hold on to opening the champagne! Another tedious journey has just begun — don’t uncork the bottle till you’re on your way to the airport.
The “Eureka-I’ve-got-in!” moment will be dampened by the complexity of completing the students’ visa form. The British application is a 13-page document (http://www.ukvisas.gov.uk) that will require the applicant to submit certificates and mark sheets from Class X onwards, in originals, and make a trip to the doctor for a clean bill of health. As the applicant’s parent and sponsor I was required to make visits to my bank, accountant and stock broker. It took much longer than my daughter or I imagined; at the end of a three weeks’ trudge, the attachments to the visa application formed a thick dossier. To cut a long story short, here’s a brief listing of some pitfalls to look out for:
All...papers must be submitted in (the) original.
Be Original: All academic certificates, mark sheets, foreign university’s unconditional offer and health papers must be submitted in original. My daughter downloaded a printout of LSE’s unconditional offer but it wasn’t good enough; she had to spent hours on the phone to LSE requesting them to courier it ASAP.
Read the Lines: Scrutinize every section of the visa application carefully, especially proof of funding. Question 8.26 of the British form is pointed and pencil-sharp: “Do they (sponsor) have any other savings or readily available money e.g. income from stocks and shares?” Your sponsor must be ready with up-to-date bank balances, educational loans and savings. A friend of my daughter’s made the mistake of submitting one year of her father’s income tax statement instead of the prescribed three years — and landed at the bottom of the queue.
The Early Bird: Get to visa offices early, an hour before they open. Visas are now outsourced to centralised agencies and they are well organised. Their employees are trained, usually efficient and sympathetic: they tick off every document, docketing them in big black Velcro-sealed packages. Remember: the liability of losing an original certificate is theirs. Don’t panic. You can also track the visa processing online. My daughter and every one of her friends lucky enough to get into top colleges had visas processed on time.
Hidden Costs: Your parent/financial sponsor is probably overextended so beware of burdensome extra costs. The British Council holds power point presentations (for a fee, of course) euphemistically called “orientations” on how to beat the paperwork. My daughter pronounced it worthless. Similarly, visa-processing authorities will offer you chargeable services such as photocopying, photographs and couriers. If you’re smart, you won’t need them. Every penny saved, is a penny earned.
Your visa is now in your bag, together with your ticket and papers, your shopping is over and winter clothes ready. Your packing is all done. Go on — kiss your dearest ones goodbye and open the champagne!
Sunil Sethi, columnist and TV presenter, is Senior Editor at NDTV and lives in New Delhi.