Moving to India. Step 5: Visa

Maarten Winkels

Working abroad has been a wish of mine for some time now. Xebia offers me the opportunity to live and work in India. Through this blog series I will keep you informed of the progress and challenges of this project.

The next step to moving to India is getting an Employment Visa. On all of our previous trips we used business visa, which are valid since while we’re working in India with our colleagues there, we’re not actually employed there. In this case, since I’m going to be employed in India, I need an employment visa. Getting one from the Indian Embassy in The Hague takes some time and effort.

Cultural differences

Last weekend my partner and I went to a music festival, Rock Werchter, in Belgium together with a few hundreds of thousands of others. The music was great, some of the biggest rock starts in the world were there, and the weather not too bad. We enjoyed ourselves very much. What shocked me most though was to see how the festival attendants used their immediate surroundings for garbage disposal. After one day, the fields in front of the podia were full with paper dished, wooden forks, plastic bags and more indefinable pieces of garbage. The campsites were even worse: some people were literally living on top of their own garbage, with tins and plastic containers piling up right outside their tents. Incomprehensible! Especially if you think about how we all knew that we would have to live in the middle of this garbage dump for the next couple of days!

We were disgusted by the sight of this and couldn’t bring ourselves to doing the same. Even though there were admittedly very few garbage bins on the terrain, whenever we had a piece of garbage, we collected it and disposed of it at the nearest bin. Although we often spoke our amazement of the situation to each other, we never talked about it to somebody else, let alone reprimanded them. Apparently, this was the normal, accepted way of behavior in this surroundings and we were the exception. I don’t think that our actions have helped very much: The fields didn’t get any cleaner and if anybody noticed our different behavior, they probably laughed at it.

This story was brought back in my memory when we visited the Indian Embassy in The Hague this week and it had nothing to do with the garbage situation there. What made the connection was the different way in which I and my partner were treated by the embassy personnel. The people at the counter clearly addressed just me and not my partner, when we were invited for the interview, I was offered a comfortable chair, while she had to sit on a very simple one and during the interview the interviewer clearer spoke with me and not with my partner. My partner seemed to be a bit annoyed by this and tried to break the isolation by speaking up loudly and, to the irritation of the interviewer, interrupting him with questions. She had had these same experiences before in Indian restaurant or on the streets of Delhi and had always felt very uncomfortable with it.

Although we both don’t agree with the different treatment for men and women, I think in India we are the exception and we will have to accept that the society works in this way. Even though we will stick to our own principles and will not participate, I don’t think that our actions will alter the situation. In this sense it is the same as our experience in at Rock Werchter. In the end, dealing with the frustration that this can bring will be our own responsibility.

Getting the Visa

Actually getting the visa was quite easy, although it took some effort. I knew I had to go to the embassy between 10 and 12 in the morning in person for an interview and I had to take a signed employment agreement with Xebia. Luckily the employment agreement had been drafted in India and an Indian colleague was travelling to the Netherlands last week, so I had an official hardcopy of the Indian employment agreement with me.

At the embassy we were told to fill out the visa request forms and add two passport photographs each. We had anticipated the photographs and were invited for the interview. The man went over the employment contract and asked me the location of the office and the name of the director. Then he asked me whether the company was registered with the chamber of commerce. I hadn’t expected this and said “I think so”. “I THINK so” he huffed. And he went on a bit about how some companies in India that do not register cannot be trusted. He concluded that he would check whether the company was registered by calling the director of Xebia India. After a few minutes he came back and requested me to come back the following day with a copy of the Chambers of Commerce registration form and a copy of the contract.

The following day I was told immediately that we would get the visa. I only had to come back again in the afternoon yet again to retrieve the visa. I would get a year employment visa and my partner a half-year tourist visa. Since we are not married, she cannot come on an accompanying visa. This is fine, as long as she can request the visa to be renewed. As far as we have been told there are no restrictions on renewing. We will probably try and come back every six months together to renew the visa and visit family.

The only real problem is that we received word that it is not allowed to do voluntary work on a tourist visa. It is hard to find any Indian legal documentation on this.

The next step in this project will be to discuss my role in India with the various people involved. This will probably get a lot clearer too, when I can discuss it in person with my Indian colleagues. I’ll be working from the new Indian office in August.

Comments (3)

  1. Ramji - Reply

    July 14, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    Hey I am an Indian from Chennai, India. In official circles I guess they prefer to talk to the male partner because they feel comfortable with it. It is not discrimination but a kind of courtesy- men sort out the affairs and women are meant to enjoy the luxury. But in India that may not always happen. Infact I would advise you to make it a point that you and not your partner do most of the talking to the locals. Especially to taxi drivers and luggage porters who tend to talk a lot (of rubbish) to the wife/gf so as to get you to pay extra. Women are sometimes easily influenced even if it is just to get rid of the haggler. If you want anymore info about India mail me. I'm a local 😛

  2. Rakesh - Reply

    July 14, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    In India we give preference to man as man is considered as "head of household". In general man will talk with man & woman will talk with woman.

  3. Maarten Winkels - Reply

    July 14, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    Dear Ramji,

    Thanks very much for your response. I think you make two very interesting points.

    1) There is always a reason for why people behave the way they do. This reason is perfectly reasonable and even logical in their context and from their perspective. As you say, not addressing women is a courtesy to them. I'm sure many feel that this is perfectly reasonable. To somebody from another context and with another perspective, this may never be reasonable and even though the reason for the behavior can be explained to them, they might always feel mistreated. This is the main point with cultural differences. Again, as I try to express in my blog, I'm trying not to judge, I'm expressing how this all comes across to me. I'm certainly not trying to change anything.

    2) Participating in this behavior, by shielding my partner from malicious taxi drivers or porters is exactly what I intend not to do. In our context and from our perspective, this would be acknowledging that my partner is less capable to handle these things by herself and -as you express- more gullible to hagglers. Although you might feel this is an established truth, I do not agree. In my opinion treating my partner like this would be disrespectful to her. I hope you will allow me to keep to some of my principles, while participating in your society. I think the best thing is to be pragmatic about these things, while keeping your principles. From a practical point of view, like when communicating with government, there will certainly be occasions when we need to adapt.

    Thanks for your advice and your offer of help.

    Regards,

    -Maarten Winkels

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