Problem-solving, his forte
Clyde Jones, Chief of Consular Services, Visa Section in the U.S. Consulate, Chennai, has won the affection of Chennai-ites for the useful work he has done to ease the woes of visa applicants. A look at some of his innovative methods...
THE PRESENT system at the U.S. Consulate in Chennai for visas has a new image when compared to what it was till three years ago.
There were press reports which appeared in the beginning of 1996 of the various hardships faced by applicants waiting in long queues overnight outside the Consulate compound just to obtain a token to appear for an interview before 9 a.m. at the Consulate.
Applicants faced the anxiety of whether they would be interviewed on a particular day after having travelled a long distance to Chennai. There were many instances when they had to return home after waiting in the queue overnight as the Consulate gates closed at 9 a.m. and owing to the rush they could not enter.
Applicants have also bought tokens ranging from Rs.500-1,000 from touts who collected tokens earlier from the Consulate to wait in the queue the previous night.
This was not the end of the ordeal. Those applicants whose demand drafts for the visa fees had errors and could not leave the queue were forced to purchase drafts from touts for a premium equivalent to the visa fees, which meant paying double the visa fees! Sometimes, applicants who forgot their photograph would have to make use of the touts with their instant cameras and pay exorbitant amounts ranging from Rs. 300-500 for a photograph.
While all this was going on in the queue, there was a moving canteen providing refreshments to the applicants. This resulted in messing up the surroundings and the road, and the Corporation authorities had a tough time cleaning up the mess everyday. There was an organised gang controlling the illegal activities of the touts and ensuring new touts did not enter the existing circle. Thus, fights among touts were not uncommon and the Police department found it difficult to weed out these elements.
Overall, there was chaos and the talk of the town was the problems U.S. visa applicants faced while waiting to enter the U.S. Consulate in Chennai for an interview.
Through its `Letters to the Editor' column and an article published in 1996,
The Hindu drew the attention of the U.S. Consulate officials to the situation. And there was someone who took note of it, understood the system, wanted to solve the problems and was sympathetic to the applicants and his own colleagues in the U.S Consulate. He was Clyde Jones.
Mr. Jones who assumed charge as Chief of Consular Services of the Visa Section for the U.S. Consulate in Chennai had to overcome hurdles such as that of applicants waiting outside the Consulate and meeting the growing demands of visa applicants. The boom in the software industry resulted in the highest number of H1 visas being issued with each H1 resulting in the approval on an average of seven more dependent visas.
Clyde Jones, with his keen determination, converted his ideas into action and managed to solve many of the problems faced by applicants.
He started with `drop box' applications being channelled through a single agency and arranged to return passports to applicants directly in their homes or offices. He introduced an innovative Business Executive Program, whereby applicants need not appear for a personal interview even if for the first time. This helped reduce the queue for interviews. Some first timers had necessarily to attend interviews. Visa categories such as B1/B2/Students continued to wait in queues, which was another challenge for Mr. Jones.
He evolved a system of Web Appointments, which ensured that applicants could choose a date to attend an interview at the Consulate at a time allotted to them. This system enabled applicants to appear at the Consulate just 15 minutes before the appointed time, which eliminated the queue at the gates as also the black marketing of tokens, demand drafts and photographs.
Applicants can schedule their appointments and use the `drop box facility' in Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad through the service provider - TT Services.
The websites of the U.S. Consulate and TT Services enable applicants to understand the procedures and documentation to obtain a visa. Applicants can track the whereabouts of their documents through TT Services, which handles over 500 telephone calls daily in South India to track applicants' documents.
During the last two-and-a-half years, the Consulate has handled 3,50,000 passports, reducing hurdles for the applicants in getting their visas and systematising the entire process at the U.S. Consulate, Chennai.
Clyde Jones' innovative ideas and systems have been implemented by his counterparts in Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata, thereby easing the tension of Indians bound for the U.S.
Mr. Jones has retired with the satisfaction of having provided several facilities for Indian citizens travelling to the U.S. He was honoured by various Chambers of Commerce and Industry for his valuable contribution.
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