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Diaspora Engagement and Services are an Important Cornersstone of the Consulate’s Work: C G Amit Kumar

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Consul General of Chicago Amit Kumar

HI INDIA NEWS DESK
CHICAGO, IL- The year 2020 undoubtedly has been a most unusual year. Within weeks, COVID-19 pandemic upended the way we work and live. It severely impacted travel and global trade leaving no country unaffected. It was thus not surprising that the functioning of Indian Consulate in Chicago was also affected in part due to local restrictions imposed to contain spread of COVID-19, and in part due to developments in India such as restriction on international travel. In the US mid-West region, there are close to 500,000 people of Indian origin by conservative estimates. Some put this figure at well over 600,000. One of the key priorities of the Consulate was, and remains to ensure that all services be it passport, consular, OCI or visas are rendered smoothly.

The Consulate has adapted and responded well to the COVID-19 challenges in delivering service while adhering to the spirit of our procedural requirements for various services. To illustrate, we are issuing life certificates to seniors after receiving necessary documents by post and conducting personal interview through video conferencing. I believe that moving forward, this should become the norm. Indeed, officials of the Consulate, with a view to improve our services, regularly review guidelines and procedures as well as track suggestions and feedback received.

As you all know, international flights into India were prohibited around third week of March 2020 to contain the spread of COVID-19. Consequently, several hundreds of Indians were stranded here at that time.  The Consulate proactively reached out to them and provided support on several fronts. This would not have been possible without the active support of the Indian-American community organizations.  Since 10 April, travel to India began under the Vande Bharat Mission and has since gradually seen higher frequency of flights. More than 40,000 people have travelled to India from Chicago in over 150 VBM flights so far. Today, Air India and United Airlines operate a dozen flights weekly from Chicago to destinations in India.

All visa categories have been restored for travel except tourist and e-visas. Visas for emergency travel are issued promptly, sometimes even on weekends or public holidays. Our volume for consular, passport and OCI-related work is already back to pre-COVID-19 levels at times exceeding it. The 24×7 helplines set up in wake of COVID-19 are still continuing although with reduced hours. After registering over 6500 calls in May, currently, the Consulate is handling close to 2400 calls per month. We have extensively used our website, social media platforms and group emails to inform the diaspora about important policy changes. In addition, we have held numerous virtual interactions with the community organizations including virtual consular camps on regular basis. Separately, we have held weekly classes / workshops on pranayam, meditation and yoga and Indian classical dance and music through our Facebook page.

We have also navigated the change in outsourced services provider from M/s CKGS Ltd. to M/s VFS Global in early-November. There were a few teething problems initially, which have since been mostly resolved. The Consulate is in close touch with M/s VFS Global to ensure good service. Many people also ask us as to why over-the-counter services have still not resumed? This is an important COVID19-related measure to ensure safety of both the applicants and our Consulate officials. Ours is a small team and any case of COVID-19 will have an outsize impact on Consulate’s ability to render services.

To conclude, the Consulate would like to reaffirm its commitment to ensure smooth expeditious service to the Indian diaspora and citizens. I take this opportunity to wish everyone that the New Year 2021 brings in joy, peace, harmony and good health.

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