Visiting tourists complain of long waits and lack of facilities

Immigration:  Hundreds of Indian tourists are gathered at the immigration office in Phuentsholing. It is 12pm.

Many have been waiting for hours to get their permits processed.

Inside the immigration office, tourists shoved and pushed each other to get to the counters.

This is the scene at the immigration office in Phuentsholing these days.

Tourists said that the immigration office in Phuentsholing must improve its services and facilities.

Dr Goshi, 38, said that the process for his permit was cumbersome. “I’ve been here since 8am,” the doctor said.

He pointed out that neither are there drinking water facilities or public toilets at the immigration office.

“It is taking a long time and one whole day is getting wasted.”

Another tourist, Dr Nirav, who is also from Gujarat, India said that every person in his group was facing problems in acquiring their permits. He described the situation at the immigration office as “chaotic.”

Another tourist, Bharath, said that the immigration office must introduce a token system. He pointed out that while numbers are issued at the beginning of the process, the proper order is not followed.

Other tourists backed up this claim. Two women from Maharashtra, Pawa and Pai also said a proper token system must be introduced.

“Chairs to sit and water to drink also must be provided,’ Pai said. “We waited more than two hours.”

Amidst the crowd inside the immigration office, a travel agent owner, Kelden Tshering, who had come to receive his clients, was frustrated and tired.

“The first problem here is that we are not kept in queue,” he said. “The numbers allotted are not followed in order.”

Kelden Tshering also said that the office must have better printers during the peak seasons. He said the printing process is too slow.

The biggest issue, Kelden Tshering said is that Saturdays and Sundays are off days and as a result Mondays result in large and uncontrollable crowds.

An observer, Karma Jimba, said that a single immigration staff entertained the entire verification process.

“There is no one to guide on procedure nor are there any signboards,” he said, adding that tourists and immigration staff were overburdened.

The immigration officials, meanwhile, are also facing challenges. There are limited counters and not enough immigration officers.

The home ministry terminated several immigration staff following an Anti-Corruption Commission investigation. They are yet to be replaced.

The immigration office in Phuentsholing is also currently under construction. The top floor is not usable at the moment and without it, proper facilities have not yet been installed.

Immigration officials said they still provided more than what they had even when the top floors were used. There are five counters for tourists today and eight counters for producing permits for foreign workers from across the border.

There were only two counters for tourists before, while there were five for foreign workers.

Immigration regional director in Phuentsholing Sangay Tenzing told Kuensel that by August this year, the construction of the office will be completed.

“I feel sorry for tourists who have to face such problems,” he said, pointing out that it was the timing of the construction that created such problems.

However, by August 2016, everything will be solved an official said. Facilities such as drinking water, toilets, sitting arrangements, including air conditioners will be in place.

With the home ministry announcing vacancies for about 50 immigration officials, it is also expected that the office in Phuentsholing will get replacements.

After construction work at the immigration office is completed, there will be 12 counters to cater to tourists and 15 counters to cater to foreign workers.

Meanwhile, close to a thousand non-Bhutanese come to process their tourist permits and work permits daily at the Phuentsholing immigration office.

Rajesh Rai | Phuenstsoling