I received the US government’s Boren Scholarship to study in India, but could not use it because my visa was rejected twice.
By Mia Sumra
Imagine being labeled guilty before you had a chance to prove your innocence. That is how I felt when India’s Ministry of Home Affairs decided to reject my student visa application twice.
First some background: I am an undergrad student at the University of New Haven, scheduled to graduate next summer. I received the prestigious government Boren Scholarship to study Urdu in Lucknow, India, in early May. Created by the US Senate and named after former US Senator and Oklahoma Gov. David L. Boren, the scholarship allows American students to study the languages and cultures of countries that are underrepresented in the number of students studying there.
As soon as I found out that I was selected, I accepted it immediately because my dream has been to go to India to get in touch with my roots.
Now, since I was born in Pakistan, a lot of people ask me why don’t I go to Pakistan to do that. Well, I just feel more connected to India for a few reasons. One, I left Pakistan with some haunting memories as an 8-year-old. I have never been back to Pakistan since then, nor do I ever plan on going to Pakistan.
A lot of my friends growing up in America were Indians and I watched Indian movies and shows, and I rooted for the Indian cricket team. To me, India was the better version of Pakistan because it was more progressive than Pakistan. I also felt like I was missing parts of my root growing up.
So, when I had the opportunity to learn intensive Urdu in India, I took the opportunity, even though I became a business owner recently and the first of the tech company, which is focused on security — SlideDrive — is set to launch in March of 2018. We are currently closing our investment funding round. I was willing to put my company on a back burner to go to India.
A week after I found out about the scholarship, I realized that I needed to apply for the Indian visa as soon as possible. Now I had one week before I was supposed to leave for Europe on a “War and Terrorism” study abroad program sponsored by my university.
As I was applying for the Indian visa, I realized that there was something wrong with the application. I was not able to continue filling it out because it told me I was unqualified.
Well, I am a dual citizen of the United States and Pakistan. I could apply for the Indian visa on my Pakistani passport, but not on my American passport unless I give up my Pakistani citizenship.
Without any hesitation, I started the application to renounce my Pakistani citizenship. While I was in Europe for a study abroad program through my university in Europe, I was also dealing with the Pakistani consulate, so I can quickly renounce my Pakistani citizenship and apply for the Indian student visa. I could not apply for the visa on my Pakistani passport because I had a US government funded scholarship. It took a month or so to resolve the issues with the Pakistani consulate.
In the end, I was able to renounce my citizenship. Now it is end of June and I just started my application for the Indian visa. I got through the first part, only to find out that the questions are impossible for me to answer.
Apparently, if you have a Pakistani heritage, even if you are born in the United States, you still must fill out about six different additional forms about your Pakistani heritage. And guess what? The questions are next to impossible to answer.
They asked me questions about not only my parents, but my grandparents as well. I never met my grandparents on my mother’s side, and they wanted that info. It took about three weeks to get that info because I had to contact family members in Pakistan that I barely spoke to for that information.
Why is it important to know information about my grandparents when I am the one trying to enter the country? And why is there not an option to say that your grandparents had never held a passport or they are deceased? Because the application does not let you continue until you put down a passport number for your grandparents. Not everyone has a passport, and my grandparents from my mother’s side did not.
I was finally able to finish my application because a colleague of mine connected me to someone at the Embassy of India in Washington, DC, who then connected me with someone from Cox & Kings Global Services (CKGS), a private agency contracted by the Indian missions to process visas, in New York.
Both contacts told me that my application looked great; so I sent it in. About a month later, the application came back: “REJECTED.” The reason I was told was that I failed to provide information on my father.
I did provide everything they wanted to know because you cannot continue the application until every part of the application is filled. I even told them I was willing to provide any additional documents. They did not ask for any additional document. They just rejected me.
They did not even do an interview. So, I was advised to apply again. And I did because I thought, they cannot possibly reject me twice. But I was wrong. I was rejected once again. I was rejected a second time, but was not given a reason.
After being rejected twice, I gave up because what more could I have done at this point. It was too late to keep fighting because the program I was on had already started.
I consider mine as a case of pure discrimination. I did not know that when you have a Pakistani citizenship or heritage, your application gets pinged and sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi, where it takes about a month or two to process.
Why is it that being a Pakistan-born automatically mean that I am guilty before Indian authorities?
I was rejected by a country I thought was my cultural home. It rejected me because its politicians want to bring politics into education. I wanted to strengthen my Urdu and Hindi skills in India, so I can come back and help build a better relationship between the United States and India. But I was rejected because I was considered guilty before I had a chance to prove my innocence.
I am writing this not to complain about discrimination, but to create an open dialogue in India and in America about this issue. I am just looking for answers. I do not want this to happen to another Pakistani American student in the future. Politics should not play a part in education. I am calling out all of the politicians in India to reconsider their position and to treat this issue as a priority. India and Pakistan both talk about improving the issues between the two countries. This is not a time to talk about change, this is the time to make change happen.