NEW DELHI: A delegation of an Indian wrestling team, which was supposed to play in Spain for the Under-23 Wrestling World Championship was denied visa by the Spanish embassy in New Delhi, last week, creating an uproar within the Wrestling Federation of India, as well as among officials in the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.

As many as 21 members of the 30-member strong Indian squad selected for the championship were denied Spanish visa on “frivolous grounds”. The team was scheduled to play in Spain’s Pontevedra where the world championship took place between 17 October and 23 October.

The Wrestling Federation of India expressed its unhappiness over the way its strong contingent was not allowed to participate in the world championship. Hitting out at the Spanish embassy, the Wrestling Federation of India termed the incident as “unfortunate” in a tweet. “It is highly unfortunate that this has happened. It is for the first time that something like this has happened where in a world championship game, a foreign embassy has denied a visa to a country’s players. The Indian team was denied visas on frivolous ground,” the Wrestling Federation of India tweeted.

The Sunday Guardian reached out to the Spanish embassy in New Delhi, enquiring about the specific reasons for the denial of visa, but the embassy did not reply to the queries sent by this newspaper till the time of going to the press. The denial of visa to 21 Indian players has also brought to the fore the long queues and delays in granting visas to Indians by European Union countries.

According to multiple sources and visa agents handling visas to European countries (Schengen visa), the reason for the delay is possibly because the EU is trying to mount pressure on India to abandaon its neutrality and choose the side of Ukraine in the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.

A visa agent from New Delhi, who did not wish to be named, told The Sunday Guardian, “The visa delays created by the European countries are pushing back business travel, work travel and even student visas by months, thus depriving students and businesses. Through this, they want to communicate their displeasure to the Indian government.” The Sunday Guardian spoke to multiple immigration service providers in Delhi to understand the situation and all these immigration services told this newspaper that one had to wait for at least three months before they could get an appointment with the visa services of the EU countries. “There is a lot of pendency with the embassies since the Covid period and they have slowed down the process since then, citing that they are working with a skeletal staff and, therefore, the delivery is taking much longer than normal. However, it cannot also be denied that the embassies are prioritising the Ukraine and Russia issue to grant visas to Indians. We have seen that since the last one year, India has received one of the lowest numbers of Schengen visas,” an immigration service provider from Delhi’s Nehru Place told this correspondent.

Another immigration service provider told this newspaper that to enter a Schengen country, one can take the UK route as visas to Indians via the UK High Commission are being granted within 10 days. “Once you go to the UK, you can apply for a Schengen visa from there; there is no waiting time in that country. One possible reason for the long queue in India is that these European countries treat India like a third world country and so they are not prioritising the entry of Indians into their respective territories,” the immigration service provider said.

The long delay to get a Schengen visa has been going on for quite some time now. Several people who have been trying to apply for a simple tourist visa to the Schengen countries are having to wait for as long as three to four months. Some even have taken to social media to express their outrage over the cancellation of their travel plans and many have spoken of losing money. Many even complained about how their passports were being “held hostage” by the embassies for months with the staff there sitting on the visa decisions.

The Sunday Guardian also looked up the appointment slot for Schengen countries on the VFS Global website, which takes care of all the backend documentations and biometrics for the embassies and this newspaper could not find any date for VFS Global’s appointment centre in New Delhi.

The New Delhi centre of VFS Global says that “no appointment dates available for this centre” for a Schengen tourist visa or any short term visa. However, VFS Global’s appointment centres in Kolkata and Chennai show appointment dates not before 16 January and 12 February respectively. So, if one has to travel to Europe, they must wait for at least three months.

The Sunday Guardian reached out to VFS Global for a reply on the current visa situation for European countries, to which a VFS Global spokesperson told The Sunday Guardian, “With the opening of international borders and resumption of international flights from March 2022, there has been an unprecedented surge in visa applications from India. Despite the spike in visa application volumes, VFS Global has maintained its standard turnaround time of one business day for processing and sending the applications to respective embassies/consulates for decision-making. There could be an additional day due to the hub and spoke travel time required between cities, as and when applicable. Decisions on visa applications, and the timelines to process them, are at the sole discretion of the respective embassies/consulates and may vary from one mission to another.”

“The processing timelines are specified in some of the respective embassy/consulate websites, if not all. VFS Global manages the non-judgmental and administrative tasks related to visa applications for the sovereign governments we work with, enabling them to focus entirely on the critical assessment task,” VFS Global added.