DUBAI // Indian Embassy officials said yesterday they are making the collection and processing of passport and visa applications smoother, more efficient and slightly cheaper.
"We are taking efforts to ensure that services are professionally provided and the transition is smooth," said Lokesh Kapaniah, the Indian ambassador to the UAE, weeks before an outsourcing contract with Empost, the UAE logistics and courier firm, is set to expire.
"There could be a reduction of up to 25 per cent in the processing fee for both visa and passport services," said Mr Kapaniah.
At present, Empost charges Dh12 for passport applications, and Dh50 for visa applications. Those costs are over and above those levied by the Indian government for the same services.
Frustrating delays, long queues, crammed waiting centres and processing errors were some issues that Indian expatriates had to endure when the services were first outsourced two years ago.
"Accessing passport services should be made much easier and faster," said Santosh Kumar of Dubai, who was at the Karama collection centre in Dubai yesterday to renew her passport. "The centres should be equipped with more counters, considering the number of people who access these services every day."
Currently, 15 Empost centres and more than 80 staffers handle the collection and facilitation of applications for Indian nationals, who number more than 1.75 million across the Emirates.
"Submitting passport applications is rather time-consuming," said Ajay Chandra Chaturvedi, who spent more than 90 minutes at the centre yesterday. "We had to take a photograph first, which was really quick. But we had to wait for long after that."
In 2008, Indian missions in the Emirates announced their decision to outsource the collection of applications to speed up the process. Empost processed more than 200,000 passports and more than 81,000 visa applications last year.
In December, the embassy invited fresh proposals for its outsourcing services. The current contract is set to expire in April. The embassy is in the process of finalising bids, with Empost among the top bidders.
"The people who take on the job will need to possess technical expertise, global experience and professionalism in handling a large number of applications", said Mr Kapaniah.
However, he warned that there could be "teething problems".
"We do realise there would be initial issues and this is what we seek to minimise," he said.
These "issues" are of great concern to the Indian diaspora in the Emirates.
Khalid Zameer and his wife, Shabih, who were also at the Karama centre yesterday, said they hoped that if a new firm took on the job, spacious centres and friendly staff would be a priority.
"We have previously been to the consulate to access passport services, and the process wasn't easy at all," said Mr Zameer. "Here, things are relatively quicker and the staff is friendly." Anwar Ansari, who brought his infant to the centre for a new passport, said centres should be equipped with separate waiting and feeding rooms. "Since newborns could be exposed to infections in crowded areas, the centres should consider providing a separate waiting room," he said.
Empost officials said initial problems had been ironed out and services had improved.
"As is the case in any new venture, we had our share of teething issues, especially due to the fact that these services are usually provided by respective missions and their staff," said Sultan al Midfa, the chief executive of Empost. "We had to recruit raw hands and train them to specific requirements of the mission, and the same was a big challenge."
Embassy officials will announce the details of the bid next month.