Local centre for Australian visas from May

The entire visa application process is expected to cost a little over Nu 10,000 per person

Visa: The establishment of a visa application centre for Australia is expected to do away with having to use illegal visa businesses, which over the years have cheated many Bhutanese attempting to go to Australia.

Etho Metho Tours and Treks Pvt Ltd is in the process of establishing the visa centre for Australia in Thimphu.

Etho Metho Tours and Treks CEO Dago Beda said the office is getting ready with biometrics equipment being procured and human resources being mobilised. “We are hopeful that by mid-May we would have the centre running,” she said.

While there have been positive indications that the centre can be established, the promoter is waiting for the final confirmation, which is expected in May. “Unless we get confirmation we can’t say it’s official now,” Dago Beda said.

In the absence of such a centre many Bhutanese have been cheated by fake Australian visa agents, who have promised them visas with employment in Australia.

One such agency operated jointly by a Bhutanese national and an Indian national collected more than Nu 9 million from 20 Bhutanese and provided them with visas which were later found to be fake.

The 20 Bhutanese are yet to recover their money. The Bhutanese national who is from Wangdue has left the country while his Indian counterpart, Ali Idris who was based in Kolkata, India has not yet been traced.

Two representatives of the agency, who helped in finding clients are currently under police custody for their alleged involvement in the visa scam.

However, once the visa application centre is established, such scams can be avoided. This is because all Bhutanese desiring to travel to Australia will have to use the centre.

Dago Beda said as there was no such centre from which to obtain accurate information about Australian visas, illegal agencies filled the gap.

She added that as many Bhutanese desire to travel to Australia they attempted whatever avenues available to them and as a result had to pay large sums of money with no guarantee of a genuine visa.

The centre, which will function in line with the established rules and regulations of the visa application procedure, will issue both short and long term Australian visas at minimal charges.

Dago Beda said although they cannot provide the exact fee that will be charged it could be a little over Nu 10,000. This charge will include the visa fee, charges for biometrics, courier mail and logistics.

Using the centre, applicants will be able to obtain a visa within two to three weeks. The centre will work closely with the Visa Facilitation Centre in New Delhi to which Australian embassies in the region have out sourced the visa processing service.

Excitement

Bhutanese who are trying to go to Australia are welcoming the news of the upcoming centre. With stories of life changing incomes being made by Bhutanese in Australia, it is a top destination for Bhutanese.

A corporate employee Phuntsho said he has started to prepare mentally for his visit to Australia through the centre. “Since there is no risk of scams I feel safer and comfortable to process the visa,” said Phuntsho.

A businessman who has already spent around Nu 1.05M on an illegal visa agent for Australia is planning to seek help from the centre.

He said since it is his dream to visit Australia he will keep trying until he succeeds. “I will never give up,” he said.

All they need to do is submit their applications and required documents. Unlike before, the applicants need not even travel to New Delhi for finger printing.

Schengen visas

The centre currently deals with Schengen visas. Since the centre was established last year, 152 Bhutanese have availed a Schengen visa.

Of that around 15 were government officials. The rest were private individuals who travelled to Europe on a business tour while others were monks.

The centre processes visas for Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden.

Dago Beda said Bhutanese travelling to these countries are increasing. “We are making visa possible on their doorsteps. All they can do is walk up to the centre and start processing,” she said.

The centre charges Nu 4,600 for a visa and Nu 4,550 for biometrics, logistics and courier charges.

Cost savings

The opening of a centre that processes the Schengen visa in the country has drastically reduced expenses incurred in obtaining the visa which usually includes a trip to New Delhi.

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

A senior civil servant who recently availed a visa for Austria from the centre said it would help in cutting down the government’s expenses. He added that the government spends much on civil servants when they have to go to India for visa processing.

“The service that the centre provides is good and prompt,” he said. “It would be convenient if the centre expands their service to other European countries as well.”

The centre plans to process visas for the UK as well.

Tenzin Namgyel

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