Almost eight month after my application, I finally received my Indian research visa these days (proudly pictured to the right). I can assure you: the process is a very Indian one. Polite persistence, personal contact, and calling in favours from influential people works - shouting, being formalistic, or going on holiday in the meantime rather doesn't. Most importantly, it helps to know as much as possible about how the procedure should be - even if it invariably will turn out differently. Since there is very little information out there, however (I still remember how lost I felt when I started out), and a good bunch of outdated rumours abound (supervisors' tales from the early 70s etc), I decided to abstract from my experiences, readings, and conversations with colleagues - and to write this blog post. Consider it a return favour to the academic community for the tremendous help I received along the way, but don't take it as a definite guideline (in addition, read through here, here, and there, ask colleagues, and talk to your consulate, embassy and/or visa agency).

The starting point: Affiliation with an Indian institution. In order to do any resarch, you need to be affiliated with an Indian institution accredited by the University Grants Commission. Usually, this will be a university department to which you or your supervisor have good working relations (if not, don't hesitate to contact an internationally known professor in India with a short proposal of you research, and ask if he or she will be willing to support your case). In my case, I was affiliated at the Center for the Study of Social Systems at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Most likely, your request for affiliation will have to be tabled at some faculty meeting, after which the registrar of the university has to fill a specific form (see attachment below; other forms won't be accepted by the ministry, so beware). Some fee will be asked for this, payable once your stay begins (at JNU, it is 100 USD per term of affiliation). The process is comparatively straightforward, takes about a month, and provides you with the first entrance key to your research visa.

The longest stretch: Authorization of the project. After your affiliation to an Indian institution, your project (and you) will be vetted politically by several ministries in Delhi. This part of the way tends to be tedious: you receive little information, can just wait, and can't really predict the outcome (even though blunt refusals of genuine projects are rare as far as I heard - delays are, however, common). If you have good contacts in the Indian bureaucracy, or someone who walks the rounds, this might be time you need them. Don't be dishearted, however, and don't believe in some of the old tales floating about the internet - the process apparently used to be horrible in the past, but it improved a lot. If in doubt, only believe colleagues and faculty members who applied in the last couple of years. 1 To start the process, make sure you have the requisite form (see attachment below) duly filled, a short project proposal of 6-8 pages (basically a shortened, jargon-free and politically uncontroversial version of your PhD proposal), and a passport picture on this very form. Make six sets of copies of all of this, then add a cover letter (preferably on university letterhead) and the original certificate of affiliation from your Indian host institution. Take a copy of your paperwork, and submit it either directly through the consulate or embassy responsible for your place of residence, or through the outsourced agency which nowadays handle visa matters for almost all Indian consulates and embassies. They will forward your paperwork to MHRD Delhi for approval; if there are any glitches, it might be further referred to MHA, or to a state ministry (which in my unlucky case seems to have happened). Unless the latter happened (i.e. as long as it only circulates within Delhi), you should get an authorization within 2-3 months. The consulate will get notified of it, they will notify the visa agency, and they will notify you (which might all in all take another month).

The important last mile: Application for the actual visa. Some things can still go wrong here, but you almost made it. If you apply in person, are persistent, and have the paperwork ready, it should be rather straightforward (a matter of days rather than weeks). You will need: the PDF which comes out of the online visa form (they only accept this one nowadays), a biometric passport picture 5x5cm, the required fees (ask at your ousourcing agency), and most likely one more copy of your affiliation and your application for authorization of the research project (ie all paperwork which you produced so far). The authorization letter iteself remains with the consulate officer who received it. Talking of this officer: it is not entirely clear how much discretionary power he or she still holds once the project is authorized by Delhi and likewise, it is not entirely clear if they ever grant more than one year directly (extendable in Delhi - the FAQ of MHA talks of three years as a standard as long as you ask for it - but that might not be the case - see below). But as I wrote before: be optimistic now. In my case, the spell was broken once I talked in person to the head of the outsourced visa agency, who was really helpful in shuffling my paperwork through. After months, I thus finally received: an actual research visa, valid for one year (extendable), multiple entries.2 (Almost) what I hoped for!

The few extra steps: Accompanying spouses. For those married, it will be interesting to note that the spouse of a research scholar can apply for a co-terminus entry visa, even though this rule is nowhere explicitly stated and not all consular officers or outsourced personnel might be aware of it. If in doubt, contact MHA for written confirmation, or ask me to forward the respective communication I had with MHA on this subject...

In retrospect, it is a long process, and a considerable bureaucratic effort. It is sometimes hard to ascertain what (if anything) happens at any given point in time, and which considerations come into play by whom. The procedure is tedious, it can get at your nerves, and makes you want to reconsider your choice of fieldsite. It is, however, India's sovereign prerogative to check up thoroughly on anyone who whishes to do research there - and, to turn political for a moment: it ought to be that way. I could have flunked the rules, and know that some people do this - but I am not in favour of it, even if this might speed up the process. For me, this is a fundamental question of respect in the politics of post-colonial global academia. There is no harm in being strategic and informed, but if this is the process, it is the process. Just assume how it will be the other way round - I can assure you, latest since I worked for the German Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, how very difficult it is for South Asians to obtain any visa for Europe at all. Let alone a visa which permits them to live in sensitive places stalking interview partners, drawing maps, and enquiring about all kinds of things...

A final caveat: everything I said is subject to change and probably not applicable to other academic disciplines. If it helped you, let me know. If you had different experiences, please add them with the comment function below...

  • 1. In fact, there are rumours (unconfirmed) that the whole process has changed in summer 2011, in that consulates and embassies now issue a one-year research visa without major background checks - which would only be entered once you try to extend the validity of your visa in the country itself (this probably only holds true in specific cases, such as short-term research, specific topics, specific disciplines). Please let me know if you found any official confirmation for this potential new practice...
  • 2. On the issue of entries: there are rumours that one has to enter India within four weeks of the date of issue of a research visa. No such endorsement was made on my visa, and I was not able to confirm this information online. Please let me know if you know something about it.
Raphael Susewind's picture

For a brief update on how the process continues once in the country (at least in case of JNU), see this helpful post here: http://researchabroad.blogspot.com/2009/02/jnu-affiliation.html

Raphael Susewind's picture

A brief update after almost a year on the two rumors in the footnotes: the second rumor - namely that you need to enter India within four weeks of getting your research visa - has been confirmed independently by two colleagues. The first rumor - that there is a new process which does not involve Delhi - is in contrast most likely wrong: there have been cases where police turned up at some colleagues' places because their consulate gave them research visas without clearance from Delhi. The consulate's fault and not the colleagues' - but still, they were the ones in trouble ultimately. So beware...

Raphael Susewind's picture

One more update: Prof Duff informed me that the "new regulation" alleged above indeed exists, and is contained in a document from MHRD vide no. F-.31-18/2008-U.4 dated July 2, 2008. I am trying to get hold of this document, but as one can read on IndiaMike, this document among other things "conveyed that the Professors/teachers and Scholars who are invited as visiting faculty, the powers to issue visas has been delegated to Indian Missions abroad and that Indian Missions have been authorized to issue visas based on an invitation from a Central Educational Institution or publically funded State University." Now whether this holds in all cases, and for PhD students, too, still needs to be ascertained, but it can't be wrong to refer to this passage in your application...

Jamie's picture

Hi Raphael,
This post is very helpful. I realize it is now a bit out of date and I am wondering if you have any information on what the process is like now. I have my affiliation letter ready and working on the proforma. The visa outsourcing agency says it take a couple of days to process on their end, but I am assuming the Delhi vetting still takes a while. Do you have any contacts that have gone through this process recently or any recent stories? Any info. you can share would be greatly appreciate.
Best,
Jamie

Amey's picture

I have applied for the research visa (PhD student) in Jan/Feb 2014 and am still waiting. While the official waiting time is supposed to be 3 months, my visa application still sits with the MHA. I have received notice that academic clearance was given to my research project, but it seems that security clearance is more difficult to get. I have regularly talked to the Indiam Consulate in Germany but they say they have no influence at this point. They suggested I should have some person of political clout (ideally the VC or a registrar of the affiliating university) make a call to the MHA. We tried this but couldn't get through so far. There is also a visa support service at the MHA, but all they say is that they remind the concerned authorities on your behalf. To ma knowledge, there is really nothing I can do except wait, and in my case this is a big problem, as my research project incl. funding runs out in 2015. If anybody has other suggestions, please reply.
Best,
Amey

SAJ's picture

Dear Raphael and Jamie,

I lived in India as a research student for quite sometime. At the time when I was admitted into PhD program, Indian Research visa was very difficult to obtain with an average waiting time of 6 to 12 months especially for people belong to 'prior reference countries (PRC)'. However, Indian immigration rules and regulations have generally evolved (though still almost the same for the PRC)to meet the increasing demand!

Now, I believe that Indian research visa is subject to the discretion of the concerned Embassy of India official. This means that the Embassy official would check out the sensitivity of your topic of research and other related facts such as your nationality, the funding agency, and other related paper work and then decide whether to refer the case to Delhi (MHRD) and (MHA) for approval or directly approves it and grant the visa. This is evident by numerous publications in this regard found in many official websites such as https://www.hcilondon.in/research_visa.html and http://www.hciottawa.ca/pages.php?id=126

The second link is particularly important and contains very valuable information. Although the information there is confined to applicants who are in Canada, it still gives clue on how application for research visa is handled and confirms that 'R' visas ARE now at the discretion of the Indian Embassy/consulate officials, Unlike the case in the past when it was only permitted by approval from Delhi.

There is also a faint (because FRRO people do not like to promote it)possibility to convert a student visa into a research visa by the FRRO in Delhi or other states. If all conditions are met, this is very easy to do for almost all nationalities, except of course (PRC). People can check FAQ of the MHA-INDIA on this link http://mha1.nic.in/pdfs/ForeigD-FAQs-ResearchVisa.pdf

in contrary to Raphael's post, Usually there are no checks by the police whether your visa was obtained by approval form Delhi or from the embassy only. practically, authorities in Delhi are only concerned about one obvious thing 'whether you have the appropriate type of VISA for that particular visit, how you obtained it is not their business'.

Raphael Susewind's picture

Thanks Jamie and SAJ, and sorry for my late reply - we just had our first child, I am terribly busy. No time for proper blogging right now. Anyhow, its good to hear that the process changed, at least for most projects. If yours is truly sensitive, its best to have solid political contacts and clout anyway (or a supervisor who can make the right kinds of phone calls)...

Jamie's picture

An update:

I gave myself a big window to get my research visa, expecting it to take a while. However, I sent it to the Consulate in NYC and it took three days to process and a week to deliver back to my house. SAJ is correct that applications do not necessarily go to Delhi anymore. Also, despite the fact that the visa is "only valid for four weeks" after the date of issue, I arrived nearly two months after mine was issued and nothing happened upon entry. The people at Cox and Kings as well as the Indian Consulate had no knowledge of the four week rule. This may just be a carry over in the language from earlier practices.

A quick note: friends of mine who are applying in places like Germany and Hong Kong have more difficulty and are still waiting. My experience is based on the New York Consulate and also not having a particularly sensitive research topic (urban policy), so this is not generalizable.

Marek's picture

Dear Raphael, a big thank you for this post! It was great to find it when I was starting my preparation for India trip over a year ago! As a few people mentioned above, the process is much easier now. I was able to get my visa in Singapore within 2 weeks, though I only needed a single entry one and only for 3 months. Everything seems to have been approved in the high commission and there was no need for any pre-approval of research subject prior to application submission. I put some more info on my blog post here http://t.co/NXU5sqVUa8 if anybody is interested! Thanks once again!

Raphael Susewind's picture

Marek, great to hear - and I am sure readers will appreciate your post as well. It never ceases to surprise me how many emails I get after four years on this issue...

Jennifer's picture

Hi all, thought I'd add my experience in 2015-16. It seems that it might be my topic that screwed up the process for me (working with Tibetan cultural institutions in India).

I submitted a research permit application in Australia in June 2015, 6 weeks before my departure date as recommended by the VFS Global processing office. I was told by them that the application was "99% approved" and would take about 1 week to get verification of "pre-approval" from the High Commission in Canberra. Everything seemed to be on track and when I followed up I was reassured everything was OK. However, after several weeks it seemed that it was delayed at the High Commission so I followed up with them. They said it had been "sent to Delhi" and is "in processing" there. I followed up with the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi and they told me to resubmit an application to them directly by email because they couldn't track down the copy sent from the High Commission. I followed up again over the next few months because my fieldwork was time-sensitive and I was constantly reassured that everything was OK and it would be processed soon. However, throughout the whole process staff in various offices were not able to reliably answer my questions about processing times, requirements or likelihood of it ever being address - it was as thought they were avoiding the questions or making up an answer they thought I wanted to hear to deflect me from following up. I still don't have any clear information about what's happening.

In the beginning I told them I had heard it could take 8 months to process (after finding this blog) staff scoffed and said it was ridiculous, no way would it take that long. HA! 8 months have passed and no visa. I have had to cancel my fieldwork in India because I will not be able to complete my PhD on time if I don't change my topic. I used to work in Delhi and had never experienced this level of frustration or difficulty with Immigration before despite all the dramas I had then getting a last-minute work visa with a human rights group and then extending my stay with FRRO. This whole process has been horrendous.

Raphael Susewind's picture

Thank you Jennifer for the update. Sad to hear. But good to know that the Delhi-route is not completely abandoned for each and every case, though it appears to be less common nowadays...

William Carruthers's picture

Hi,

I thought you might be interested in my recent experience of obtaining a research visa. We used an agency to apply through the High Commission in London and the process has taken three to four weeks (there was a holiday somewhere in there which delayed things a bit). The High Commission seems to have referred the application to Delhi, which slowed things down a bit (my research topic is not particularly sensitive and only requires archival work, which I suspect explains why my application is not still being referred; in fact, by all accounts a tourist visa would actually have been fine). I asked for a three month multiple entry visa but have been given six months instead. There is nothing on the visa about needing to turn up in India in the next four weeks.

So, there you go. The process is somewhat of a mystery but it does seem to have worked. Interestingly, I was in contact with someone in Germany who had recently applied for a research visa and the process/forms are completely different.

Raphael Susewind's picture

Thank you William - and all the best for your work...

Reiko Kanazawa's picture

Dear Raphael Susewind and commenters, thank you for this post. My name is Reiko Kanazawa, I'm a PhD Med History at University of Exeter currently in the middle of getting my research visa application processed. I've been asked to produce a PDF document showing Government of India (GOI) approval for my research project, but I do not know what this document looks like or how to get it. I wanted to ask: has anyone heard of the High Commission asking the applicant to produce a document showing GOI approval for their project, rather than just automatically referring the application to the relevant GOI Ministries in Delhi?

From what I can gather reading blogs such as this, some people have experienced their application being referred to GOI Ministries in Delhi by the High Commission (at its discretion regarding how sensitive the project is, nationality of the applicant, funding sources, etc, which means a longer wait time), but I have not come across a case where the High Commission has asked the applicant to produce this document themselves. When I call VFS or the High Commission about how to get this document, I am told to ask my affiliated institution. But according to my affiliated institution (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and my supervisor's previous experiences (obtained around 2011), the High Commission in London should only need the letters of affiliation and of admission to the university, and they also have not heard of this document - its form, how to get it, etc. Would anyone have any information about updated procedures or your own recent experiences with VFS/High Commission regarding Indian research visas?

Again, thank you for this post + information in comments, it was really informative!

Raphael Susewind's picture

I haven't come across such a request. Are you sure they don't just mean the "Application for Approval of Research Project" though, which I attached to my original blog? Not sure who would be supposed to stamp this, though - probably someone in HRD ministry... I suggest you keep trying to get in touch with the High Commission directly. But perhaps others can chime in on this one with their own experience?

Anonymous's picture

Hi everyone,
i just need argent replay,
i am from Afghanistan, want to apply for M.Phil in india, so does the M.phil course also requires research visa ? or it will be on student visa ?

Raphael Susewind's picture

As far as I know, MPhil comes under student visa, not research visa - but best to ask the admissions office at the university you want to apply to...

Jon G's picture

Hi,

This post, and Marek's linked post from last year have been invaluable for me, so I thought I'd share my hot off the press experience of getting a research visa in case it helps anyone.

Context: I'm a British Citizen studying for a PhD in London and planning to spend a year in Mumbai from this coming January researching language and identity.

I sorted out a research affiliation with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, several months back and got the necessary hard copies (letter of invitation, letter at addressed to the High Commission of India in London saying "please give him a visa" basically and the completed certificate which is on the last page of the "additional form for research scholars"). TISS were very helpful and prompt but the flip side is that they chage USD 2,200 for 2 semesters' affiliation which I could only afford through my funding body.

I then got all the other documents together, including a truthful but somewhat bland version of my research proposal with relevant extracts copied by hand into the additional form. Had an appointment at VFS Global near London Paddington on November 9th and it was apparent that the staff weren't used to handling research visas (fair enough, since everyone seems to go with a tourish visa by default...) but I made sure they took all the documents stated on the VFS website. I took 4 photos and they used all of them in the end.

Then there was a short silence of a week and a half and e-mail today saying the processed passport was ready, so with pounding heart I went to collect it and opened it to reveal a 2-year, multiple entry Research Visa.

So I'm not sure if any conclusions can be drawn from this, and I can only speak from the perspective of a British Passport holder applying from the UK, but, Theresa May's bungling recent notwithstanding, it seems to have worked out, and very quickly. I suspect getting a reputable institutional link has helped, as has having a fairly uncontroversial topic (that could be presented in a particularly unthreatening way).

Good luck for anyone applying in future!

Jon

Anonymous's picture

Hi - this process is killing me!

Short question, the VSF website says I need to provide a "letter of admission" - does this mean I actually need to officially be accepted into the University as a PhD student? As I won't be submitting my PhD to them, they seem to think that it means I won't be "admitted" per se. Do I need to actually FULLY enrol at this university in India? If so, its a problem because the lecturer who agreed to supervise me has said he has no 'seats' left.

I contacted this university over a year ago and the registrar has just ignored all my emails. So here I am in India now, going in to the office face to face to try and sort this as no one is able to guide me through this. Everyone keeps telling me they just don't know how it works.

If anyone can answer my initial question that would be amazing. My supervisor is happy to try and bypass anything unnecessarily complicated if he can sign and stamp things himself.

Thanks!

Jon G's picture

Hi,

From the perspective of a UK student who received a Research Visa last November (2016) the answer no, you don't need to fully enrol.

My "letter of admission" constituted a letter accepting me as "short-term exchange student for Research Affiliation" and that worked for me. This is at TISS, Mumbai, and universities may vary in what sort of affiliation they offer, but I definitely think the assumption is that you will be undertaking a PhD in your home country (or wherever else) and only seeking a research affiliation in India.

I also got a Visa letter from, specifically addressed to the High COmmission of India in London, outlining my thesis title, the dates of my research affiliation, as well as my passport number, name on passport, issue and expiry date. In addition to this they completed the "Certificate of Affiliation" which is the last page of the "additional form for Research scholars" which is listed on the "Documents Required" page of the Research Visa section of the VFS website (for the UK - may be different for other countries though)

I hope this makes some sense and is of some use! Please feel free to keep asking if not :)

Jon

Raphael Susewind's picture

Thanks Jon - I agree, the 'letter of admission' would basically have to be the 'certificate of affiliation', which various universities have various rules for - at JNU it was (for PhD students) a kind of study abroad student status, and (for Postdocs / senior people) a kind of informal association. One thing is what the university wants you to do, another what the high commission requires - which is this certificate. So do whatever your university wants in order for you to get the certificate...

Anonymous's picture

Thought I'd post as found this interesting & useful when I was applying. Have just got my research visa 13 days after submitting the application. I'm a British research fellow going to India for a ~2wk stint of lab work. We wrote a reasonably lengthy description of our project and attached emails from our university confirming our grant funding. I was a little worried that we didn't have original copies of our Indian affiliation letter, just scans, but this didn't seem to be a problem! Presuming that as we're a) in India for a pretty short time and b) not doing anything that could be seen as "controversial" meant our project didn't get passed to Delhi, thankfully! Working with an Indian group that has a lot of previous experience with visiting researchers also seems to be a bonus.

Ahmad 's picture

Hi,

Very useful information is available here.

I am a Turkish national and a research scholar in Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

In 2014, I completed MA in Urdu in the abovementioned institute.

In 2015-2016, I studied 1st year of integrated MPhil/PhD program in Urdu at the same place. After finishing 1st year, I did registration in July, 2016as a continuing student for the 2nd year of MPhil. At the end of 1st year, as my GPA was good enough, I applied for Direct PhD in the same month.

In the meantime, the extension of my student visa was about to expire in September, 2016. So I extended it in 28/09/2016 till 21/07/2017. After extending it, I received a positive reply to my Direct PhD application from the university. So I became a provisional PhD research scholar. Then I got a supervisor. We together decided a topic and I started to prepare my synopsis on the agreed topic.

In July, 2017, just after 5 or 6 days of the expiration of the visa extension, I went to FRRO for conversion of my student visa to research visa which is necessary for PhD.

The lady in the Signing Authority in FRRO said that I could get my visa conversion here but my latest visa which I received from the Consulate of India in Istanbul, Turkey issued in 12/07/2013 is already 4 years old. She said also that a visa can be extended up to maximum 5 years by FRRO. So as my student visa is already 4 years old, just 1 year is left and it is impossible to complete PhD within a year. So she guided me in the way that FRRO will issue me an Exit Permit and I can come back with research visa which shall be issued by the Consulate of India in Istanbul, Turkey. I needed Exit Permit because the extension expired in 21/07/2017.

After paying the necessary fine, I got Exit Permit in 16/08/017and left India in 19/08/2017. I went to the Consulate of India in Istanbul, Turkey in 24/08/2017 but I could not get research visa in that day. An old officer in the Consulate said that I did wrong. In his opinion, I had to go to the FRRO as soon as I was accepted to PhD programme in October, 2016. I said that I had already visa extension at that time which was valid till 21/07/2017. That’s why I did not go to the FRRO. But the officer insisted on that I had to go FRRO at that time and convert it into research visa. Again I said that FRRO doesn't issue research visa without a synopsis. Moreover, as you know, preparing a PhD synopsis takes a good deal of time. Just after being accepted to PhD programme, how could I find a supervisor first, then decide a topic and finally prepare synopsis? Again the officer did not agree with this, either, by saying that FRRO issues research visa without synopsis(!). His second argument is about the Exit Permit I had. He claimed that FRRO must have given me Exit Permit because I did something wrong. When I asked what I could do wrong, he could not give me any response. Besides when I was getting Exit Permit in FRRO, I met MHA counter as well. MHA counter there in FRRO told me nothing wrong. On the contrary, the officer was very kind to me. If there was anything wrong, he could easily explain me. Then the officer in the Consulate received all my documents' xerox copies and said that he will send them to Ministry of Home Affairs. According to the response from the MHA, he will issue me the research visa or not. And the date of getting the response from MHA is uncertain.

I missed my return flight to Delhi which was supposed to happen in 28/08/2017. I have to go back to JNU a.s.a.p. to defend my synopsis first in my Centre then in my School. After defending synopsis successfully, I will be a proper PhD Scholar. Currently I am in Provisional PhD.

Since 2012, I have been studying in India and I have never suffered any legal issue. I am sincerely thankful to Government of India as it provided me scholarship during my MA studies. I have never had a legal problem.

5 weeks passed so far. No visa, no update, nothing.

It is more difficult than Schengen!

Raphael Susewind's picture

Dear Ahmad, thanks for sharing this experience - useful reminder that not everybody applies in London - and best of luck for you! Let us know how the saga continues...

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