My Experience with BLS Center New York USA : Indian Passport Renewal Process Review & Guidelines

3/04/2014 04:25:00 PM

As much as I love traveling, I can not hate enough the drama that visa, passport, airport and immigration process brings in to ones life. they have the power to almost demotivate you to step out of your house. A long chat with Immigration officers at SFO port last year, gave me much insight about how, most often the innocent travelers are the ones who get in to unnecessary trouble for no fault of their own, while big companies keep sending their illegal workers abroad, and no one stops them, because, well, lets face it,  Its all politics, of high level. Yes.

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If traveling with an Indian Passport in hand, is already not unfortunate enough and if you're
wondering why I said that? You'll rarely see "traveled to 99 countries" in an Indian's twitter profile. Do you think Indians are so home-centric? that they don't have enough vagabond spirit in them to travel? or they don't want to? Well Check out this spread sheet of how many countries have on-arrival visa and entry to Indians than lets say USA / Canada or a European country. Part of the reason lies in this fact indeed. Most surprising though, The Indian govt. recently announced the extension of on-arrival visa entry to about 180 countries with out expecting or requesting any sort of reciprocation of the favor. Hail India. ( Yes I am super annoyed, but I'll take that over to another post, for now lets focus on the Indian Passport alone)

Last year I learned about the changes in Visa outsourcing for Indian Passport holders, and since then I been hearing about the troubles with process non-stop. The previous service provider was VFS and I vaguely remember dealing with them since, I got my first B1/B2 in 2006 through my company, so I did not really have to do much, except appearing for the interview, same was the case with my kid brother later in 2011. last year my other sibling applied for B1/B2 in London, and that must be with new service provider BLS I am guessing. He got it with out much issues or delay but all three cases were visa process and through IT services companies, So when my passport expired this February, I was quite in a fix, as to how I go about the whole renewal process and if it wont be a pain like I have been hearing from past more than 6-8 months.

Before I list my observations and tips to those who're applying for a re-issue, here's a little on the background of my application, that I submitted in BLS Center in New York City, just yesterday.

1- Last January when I was in India, I enquired about the renewal and they told me it'll be done only after the expiry date.  - So I did not bothered to try again unless the date was nearly weeks away, and I was busy too. - >> This information btw was wrong. You can apply for a re-issue with-in 6 months of expiry date.

2- My passport was issued in 2004 and the details front and back pages were filled with a ball pen. every time I was at the immigration, these officer kept pulling the lamination and pretty much screwed the passport altogether. if they did not do enough damage already, I left the passport on Kitchen table one of these days of freeze alerts, so what happens is that I leave the faucets in the apartment dripping 24X7 and well, One morning, I find the passport half-wet. So I dry it out, straighten, leave it pressed in a book and after doing all that I did, but stamps and other colored ink on few pages were spread all over  i.e. My passport just fell in to the Damaged Category. - >> Don't be a clumsy one like me. Be careful about where you keep your documents and specially during travel, I have heard the cases of passports getting wet in the bags too. Or You'll have to do some additional work in the application.

3- For some weird reasons, I let my passport expire. I think I got more occupied/lazy when I read that, "If your passport is expired for less than 6 months, You need to submit a self explanatory letter" and that is all. >> How Easy

4- My friend Guna who recently got his fresh passport from Atlanta center delivered by mail, mostly helped me out with website/forms/documents required etc details so I dint need to wonder much. I am now returning the favor by writing all about the process here.

Here's the step by step process in short.

1- Look at this checklist here as your one to-go document. Do not wander around for what all you need to submit. the BLS website is extremely confusing.

2- If you can, try going to the center and apply-in-person. saves you the trouble of sending mails back and forth.

3 - Head over to this page for Online forms to be submitted.

- Fill the online application form and get a copy printed. fill the rest of it w/ pen. Here is a good example of how to fill it - sample online application form

- BLS Order form and the appointment letter at the BLS center are different. You have to fill both. First has the payment details. the second one is only for a booking date/time. get the print out of both and carry with you.

"I took the appointment of yesterday 11AM-11:15AM and I clearly remember there was no page that I could save, once I booked the appointment. I think you can save and print the HTML page or the email that you receive from BLS once you book it. The Staff asks for it. if you have not done the booking, they might ask you to return and come back again." 

- You can pay by cash. so save yourself troubles or making a payment check etc just incase the amount is different.

The Amount that was printed on my form was 116.3 in total, So I carried that much with me. looking at my damaged passport the staff told me, I had to pay 160, and before I said okay, they re-iterated that since my passport is already expired, I don't have to pay extra 50 bucks. Guess my laziness / or instinctive stolidity paid off.

i.e.Printed, filled and signed copy of the Check-list,  Above 3 forms and Cash, are your first set of documents in any case. - remember above checklist doesn't include BLS order form and appointment form. = 4 Docs + Cash. 

4- I don't know what they do with multiple copies National Verification Form but fill it online and take as many print outs as required depending on your case. i.e. damaged/lost/expired. I took in total of 8 copies ( since checklist says 7 extra ), glued one photo on each. i.e. total 8, One on the first page of Application form, and stapled 1 left on last page of the application form. Total 10 Photos.

5- I' will get an earful from my father, if I ever tell him I paid $38 for 10 copies of my passport size photograph. well, this is a drawback of doing things at the last minute. 2X2 inches in size with a white background, straight face, if you have applied for a visa, you know the kind of photos they use. you can get it printed in Target or Walmart, ( I had none close-by ) Well, Always keep 20-30 Passport size photos handy, wonder when you might need them. That btw are my dad's words, which i rarely follow :( But I should and you should too.

6- The best copy of address proof is a Gas / Water bill, 1 page, easy to print and notarize. ( a lease is long document) You need to get a colored print of this and also i797 or any visa document/s  that need to be notarized. You can get it done in UPS Stores. for those with F1 visa, - carry  a i-20 notarized copy. - I remember seeing someone at the center who dint bring it and had to go back. 

7 - Copies of the passports doesn't need any color print or notarization. You' are submitting your old passport with the application. so Do not forget to carry your passport itself.

8 - The only extra documents I had to add for damaged and expired passport ( less than 6 months of course) were additional national verification forms photo affixed, one simple letter explaining why I couldn't do it before ( I wrote I wasn't aware, and then at the last minute I was traveling ) and One Affidavit for damaged passport and Notarized sign on Sr. 26 on Main application form.

- The Latter was confusing. because BLS site says notarize page 3, however, change in format has brought Sr. 26 on Page 2, in new printed application. so though I wondered I still got the page 3 notarized and I had to do it again.
- I was also not sure about the affidavit,So that was one missing document in my case.

Here is How it' went at BLS Center New York City.

1 - I reached an hour early. ~10am, just incase, I knew I might have to return back so I was mentally prepared for it since I stay only close by it was no big deal. ( added advantage )

2- The staff announced to ask if everyone had coupon. I dint so I walked to one of them, He asked me if I booked an appointment, I said yes, on which he asked me for the appointment letter. I told I have none. but I booked it for 11-11:15AM for today and I did the booking on 17th Feb. He kept looking in the database and finally gave me a waiting coupon ( no. 32)

- This is why I mentioned earlier to bring the letter with you, also when I booked to appointment for in-person doc submission I was thinking I'll get the date with in the week, but first free date was in March. so book it accordingly.

3- Having a 15 minutes appointment each, I was wondering they'll scrutinize the documents and give each candidate good enough time. in about 30-40 minutes of my sitting there and waiting, I saw the staff was very patient with each applicant. they explained what was needed and what was missing etc very nicely and also let people fill in if any information was left adding.

- I meanwhile was wondering what to fill in travel agent details on Verification form, I left it as it as, thinking I will ask them. Meanwhile I saw a rat running in and out of adjacent room, and also noticed that the toilet room for the applicants had NO TISSUE PAPERS.

4- On my turn, I handed over the document exactly in the order listed in the checklist. He told me that my passport is damaged and he cant read the info on the front page, so he will type, whatever it is in application form, - and I said. alright. and then he uttered.

You have one doc missing. >> It was the affidavit for the damaged PP. 
and You have to get the sign notarized on the Page 2.

He gave me a card for the shop, on the left in the same block, ( named Lucky something) asked me to get the affidavit and sign done, come back get another token/coupon and then submit the doc. also told me about the fee, that i mentioned above.

5- I walked to the shop 1214 W 30th Street, Indian, - Had the copy of affidavit to print and filled ( I was wondering if I had to download the doc ) got it signed, also my main application form. Charged me $25 and I came back to the BLS center 28, W 30th Street.

Also apparently, People on the street knew about BLS and Notary shop both. had no problems finding the two.

6- Took another token, no 46 this time. was called at 3rd desk ( there are 4 people in total ) The Guy went through all the documents, told me he's not able to read the passport - To which I replied, You have all the info TYPED on first page of the application form, so you can read from there. ( I made sure all the info is correct already )

7 - I paid him $120 and a 1+quarter change. But he took 106.25 I believe, I gave 4 away since he dint have change. Gave me back a Slip with a tracking number and asked me to check it online after 3 days.

When I returned home, I had a mail waiting in my inbox with the same number and website details. I obviously verified the number that doesn't exist yet. The whole process took me less than 2 hours. this is when I had a missing document.

So While I patiently await my new 60-page Jumbo Passport issued from NYC, These were the few guidelines I wanted to give away in simple manner. I felt the staff was really good. the center is just like any center in India, a little space inside the building on 3rd floor. but New York has crunchy spaces anyways, It wasn't dirty. That rat however made me laugh, because its a trademark of Govt. offices and I hadn't seen one for a long time.

I think the shop close-by is quite a helpful place, since they have copies of all the docs available, but just incase you wrongly filled the online application or anything that you need internet and your own laptop for, carry one and a small USB drive. Sit in a cafe close by, fill in all the docs and get printing done, also carry your documents or at least the online copies. This is for those who're traveling a long distance, so you don't have to go back and come again.

All the best for your passport renewal. Let me know if I missed something or if you need any other info. I shall add and update the post.

P.S. As i finish this post, I have already received another mail stating and I quote. -" Your application has been submitted at the Consulate General of India.. We will notify you as soon as we receive the processed passport back from the Consulate General of India " -  I just checked the tracking number and I can see the submission of today's date and time 4:30 PM EST.

March 18th. I just collected my passports from BLS all checked , all right. the passport was issued on March 11th, just in a week from applying, and I only checked the status yesterday that it was ready for collection. Conclusion :

1- BLS NY Center is all positive and fast. Atlanta took 3 weeks for my friend's PP.
2- Perhaps people with +ive experience never go online and write a review, hence we see all the negativity floating around. Considering the number of applications that go for processing everyday, the issues that are written about online are a small percentage only. So Yes, Go ahead with your visa/pp application with out being nervous. I know I was.
3- They had tissue papers put in the Restroom today. :) 

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