Indian American organizations host first Lehigh Valley Consular Service Camp
Members of the local Indian American community looking for consular assistance visited the Coldwater Crossing Clubhouse, Breinigsville, Feb. 15 to attend the first Lehigh Valley Consular Services Camp.
The event was organized as a collaboration between local Indian American organizations including the Indian American Association of the Lehigh Valley, Hindu Temple Society and Indian American PAC of the Lehigh Valley, among others, and the Consulate General of India in New York City.
Assisted by Consulate General staff members and local volunteers, attendees were provided with notary services, assistance with application forms, and consulate services to address visa requests, passport pre-approvals and overseas citizenship of India statuses.
Event organizer Jitesh “Jay” Rohatgi of Breinigsville, treasurer of the Hindu Temple Society and vice president of the Indian American PAC, said the camp was created in response to recent measures by the Indian government to more strictly enforce rules about keeping OCI statuses up-to-date.
He explained that until the age of 20, the OCI must be updated every time a passport is renewed, and that at age 50 the status must again be updated once.
“People’s faces change, so they want it to stay updated,” Rohatgi said.
He noted local organizations had been working for four months to organize the camp and make arrangements with the Consulate General of India.
“This is not possible without all these people who are here, there’s just so many people who are here that have made this possible, and I’d really like to thank them all,” Rohatgi told the crowd during the opening proceedings.
“Thank you so much for your support and all for coming.”
Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong helped inaugurate the event, and he thanked Rohatgi and the organizing members for the opportunity.
“I’d like to say what an honor it is that Jay has asked me to be here today,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong praised the Indian American organizations and Consulate General for bringing such important services to the local and regional community, saying it was a sign of the county’s strong multicultural character.
“For the work that has gone into bringing something like this into the Lehigh County, this is just unbelievable,” he said.
“I think one of the most wonderful things about Lehigh County is our diverse population, and that’s what makes the quality of life here so outstanding.”
Armstrong presented a certificate of recognition on behalf of the county to Murugesan Ramaswamy, Consul (Consular, Passport, Visa and OCI) to formally open the event.
Rohatgi said the camp’s timing and convenient location made it easier for community members to access to important services.
“It’s so much easier for people to come here to Breinigsville on a weekend instead of driving all the way out to New York City during the week to try to go to the consulate,” he said.
Lakshmi Jampanaboyana of Breinigsville, a member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of the Lehigh Valley, said the event was also a great opportunity to bring the community together, stay informed and make new connections.
“This is better for people to get to know the community, interact and connect with other people in the community who can answer any questions or help them with the process,” Jampanaboyana said.
IAALV member Puran Baru of Breinigsville explained to The Press why holding an OCI is important for members of the Indian diaspora living abroad, noting it improved the ability to live, work and travel in India.
“For people who have renounced Indian citizenship or have received American citizenship, they can apply for OCI, sort of a permanent visa, and maintain ties back in India,” Baru said. “We want to make it easier for people to apply for it.”
When asked about possibly bringing the Consular Services Camp back as a regular event Rohatgi said early signs were favorable, noting the expected turnout of approximately 150 people and the packed room of attendees receiving assistance.
“Ultimately it depends on how successful this actually is but based on the turnout it has been very promising, we’d like to do it again in the future,” Rohatgi said.
“The Indian American community, this is what it’s all about, the togetherness and working to help one another.”