Visa: Bhutanese will no longer have to go to New Delhi in India to process Australian and UK visas as it is now available from a Visa Application Centre in Thimphu, that was launched yesterday.

The Australian Ambassador to Bhutan, Harinder Sidhu, and the Honorary Consul for the UK in Bhutan, Michael Rutland, formally opened Etho Metho Visa Application Centre, which is located below the cinema hall on Norzin Lam.

Earlier Bhutanese travelled to New Delhi to apply for a visa for either country as other requirements such as biometric information is required.

The opening of the centre is expected to reduce expenses incurred in obtaining the visa and hassles faced.

Earlier, both civil servants and private individuals spent at least Nu 60,000 to travel to India on airfare, food, lodging and other travel expenses. For civil servants, the government had to provide a daily sustenance allowance and travel allowance.

Now with the centre, a Bhutanese will get an Australian visa for Nu 34,380 of which Nu 27,100 is the visa charge and Nu 7,280 for biometrics, logistics and courier charges.

For the UK, the charges range from Nu 3,150 to 17,010 depending on the duration of stay. If the purpose is for settlement it would cost more than Nu 200,000.

Besides reducing the financial burden the centre could prevent Bhutanese from falling victim to agents, which operate illegally.

One such agency operated jointly by a Bhutanese national and an Indian national collected more than Ngultrum nine million from 20 Bhutanese and provided them with visas, which were later found to be fake.

The Australian Ambassador to Bhutan, Harinder Sidhu, said as the centre is authorised to receive applications for Australian visas it is a legitimate place to submit their applications.

“As the centre has standard approval from the Australian government so we would encourage people to go there,” Hariner Sidhu said. She also said the new facility will help streamline the visa process for those students and others planning to visit Australia.

Sidhu said she was pleased that the new centre would improve access for applicants from Bhutan seeking to visit Australia for study, work or leisure.

“Australia and Bhutan are long-time friends and we are pleased to have been able to make a major contribution by assisting Bhutan’s development over many years. Education is the backbone of this connection,” she said.

“We are very fortunate in the Australia-Bhutan relationship even though the two countries are very distinct. We are joined by enormous goodwill. Australians highly value and respect Bhutanese and we welcome Bhutanese to Australia,” the Australian ambassador said.

“We welcome many Bhutanese students to Australia, who return to make an important and influential contribution to their homeland.”

Currently there are around 1,200 to 1,400 Bhutanese in Australia.

The centre is a joint venture between Australia, UK Visas and Immigration and VFS Global, their commercial partner.

In a joint press release the British High Commissioner to India, Sir Dominic Asquith KCMG said: “I was delighted to announce the opening of the UK’s first Visa Application Centre during the successful visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Bhutan last month.”

He added: “This new application centre will make it much easier for Bhutanese visitors to get their visas and I hope it will encourage more visitors to come to the UK,” he said.

“Their Royal Highnesses thoroughly enjoyed their visit to this beautiful country and were overwhelmed by the warm welcome they received. I am sure that Bhutanese visitors coming to the UK will also receive a warm welcome and have a fantastic time exploring our country.”

The centre also deals with Schengen visas for Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden.

Tenzin Namgyel