The naivety and gullibility of Bhutanese will be tested yet again. The recent news in Kuensel heralding the arrival of the Australian Visa Application Centre (AVAC), and the manner in which the article made it sound like Australian visas will now become easy to obtain is expected to create another rush for destination Australia.
In sharp contrast, the truth is far from what was written in Kuensel. Bhutanese never had to travel to New Delhi to apply for an Australian Visa. Australia is one country where the pains of the visa applicant is sympathised and saved by not having to make the arduous and expensive trip to the visa processing centre (AHC, New Delhi for Bhutanese).
Instead, Bhutanese mailed their visa applications through courier service providers such as DHL and FedEx, and if the visa officer deemed it necessary during the course of assessment, a telephonic verification of the applicant is conducted. Bhutanese never spent Nu 60,000 when applying for an Australian visa.
Further, it was not necessary for Bhutanese to submit biometric data when filing for an Australian Visa until the arrival of an AVAC in the country. This is now an extra hurdle in the visa application process which was not applicable to Bhutanese hitherto. The Biometric data collection is here to stay, like it or not as this is now a mandatory requirement.
The other fact of AVAC charges will speak for itself as illustrated in the comparative charges table.
It is obvious that for the Bhutanese, the Australian visa just got dearer. What is highly dubious and questionable is why are the AVAC charges for Bhutan so much higher as compared to India and Nepal.
Another fact the Bhutanese must know is that at present a primary applicant and his dependent can submit their application together in one package if they intend to apply together. Therefore, they pay for only one package when they send in their visa application to AHC, New Delhi through DHL and FedEx.
The following is an excerpt from AHC, New Delhi Website (http://india.highcommission.gov.au/ndli/pa1616.html)
“Biometric data will also be collected by the AVAC through a quick, discreet and a non-intrusive process that captures a facial image and a 10-digit fingerprint scan on a dry scanner machine. Visa applicants who mail their applications to the Australian High Commission in New Delhi or to the AVAC in Thimphu, or who submit their application online will be sent a letter requiring them to attend the AVAC, in person, to provide their biometrics. Biometrics will be collected from visa applicants, irrespective of their nationality, who are in Bhutan at the time of making a visa application to enter Australia and may be requested for applicants usually resident in Bhutan but applying elsewhere.”
From the above, it is evident that Bhutanese can still send in their applications directly to AHC, New Delhi. However, applicants will now need to submit biometric data which is available only at the Etho Metho AVAC in Bhutan.
Therefore, the Etho Metho VAC must provide service rate for “Only Biometrics” for those applicants who wish to submit their visa application through other means. The AHC, New Delhi doesn’t dictate that all visa applications should be routed through Etho Metho VAC. If an applicant wishes to use Etho Metho AVAC only for biometrics, then the service charges should be defined separately for “Only Biometrics” which should not include other charges.
To the discerning, the fees imposed by the AVAC in Bhutan as compared to our neighbors are simply exorbitant and unacceptable. And fellow Bhutanese, please be informed that the presence of AVAC in Bhutan doesn’t guarantee visa success. The visa application will still be assessed by visa officers in AHC, New Delhi.
The success of the visa application is entirely dependent on how well you have justified your case with reliable documentary evidences. Also of relevance to enlighten the Bhutanese here is that AVAC is not an Australian government entity. It is a private business institution appointed as service delivery partner for Department of Immigration and Border Protection of Australia. These service charges are not dictated by the Australian Government, and therefore the stark disparity.
To put things in perspective, an individual applying for Australian visa paid the applicable visa fees plus courier charges of about Nu 3,500 before the arrival of AVAC in Bhutan. A couple applying for Australian visa still paid the applicable visa fee for a couple plus courier charges of about Nu 3,500 since they would file the application together.
With the arrival of AVAC, a single applicant will now pay Nu 7,260 in addition to applicable visa fees. A couple will now pay Nu 12,356 (Nu 7,260 plus Nu 5,096) in addition to applicable visa fees. It is still cheaper if you consider the imaginary Nu 60,000 that Bhutanese spent as per the Kuensel article. Otherwise, I cannot see how the Australian visa got easier and cheaper. Regardless of whether an applicant files his visa application on his own, he will still end up paying the above-mentioned fees hereon as applicants must visit AVAC for submission of biometric data. This is simply taking advantage of the situation.
The government must intervene and ensure that the Etho Metho AVAC does not charge unreasonably for the biometric services now made mandatory for Bhutanese, albeit for whose benefit.
Pema Tashi, Motithang