Hundreds of people stream into the small temple in Southern India at dawn. By dusk, there will be thousands walking in circles. They recite prayers, offer up coconuts — and clutch passports.
The Hindu place of worship outside of Hyderabad is known as “The Visa Temple.”
It’s real name is Chilkur Balladic, and it first gained its reputation in the 1980s thanks to a group of engineering students who were said to have received visas to study in the U.S. after visiting.
Tradition dictates that worshipers seeking visas must make 11 laps around the sanctuary. Those who are successful return to make 108 rounds in a show of gratitude.
For Indian nationals, the process of applying for visas to work or study in the U.S. can be laborious. There’s a pile of paperwork, and lottery systems that limit the number of visas granted.
According to U.S. government statistics, 1.5 million Indian residents were granted non-immigrant visas to the U.S. in 2013, which are given for temporary work, tourism, education and cultural exchange programs. Another 65,000 received “green cards” that allow them to live and work in the U.S. permanently.
Increasing numbers of highly-educated professionals from India have emigrated to the U.S. in recent decades, including many scientists, engineers, doctors and medical technicians.
Manjunath Singh is trying his luck. He walks barefoot, and sometimes loses count of his laps. Still, he presses on.
“It’s worth giving it a try, right?” he asks.
All that separates Singh, 26, from a tech job in Silicon Valley is the right sticker in his passport. His last visa application was denied. But with a new application pending, he’s hoping for more luck. This time, he’s leaning on prayer.
“It might not be exactly what you wish for, but maybe something in that direction. Something positive,” Singh said.
Written testimonials published by the temple tout the successes of visa seekers.
“It’s not like everyone who has come here got visas — 100%,” admits S. Rangarajan, a Hindu priest who blesses passports. There’s no formal effort to track the temple’s success rate with visa applications.
Whatever the number, it’s high enough to keep people coming, and to keep them coming back, if at first they don’t succeed.