Indians throng temple to crack Trump's visa curbs

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Indian Hindu devotees offer prayers to Lord Balaji, known as the 'Visa God', at the Chilkur Balaji Temple in southern India

Hundreds of Indians gather daily at a 500-year-old Hindu temple in southern India where they pray for a single wish -- an increasingly elusive US visa.

The Chilkur Balaji temple dedicated to Lord Balaji -- a re-incarnation of Hindu god Vishnu -- on the outskirts of Hyderabad city, has long been a one-stop solution for prospective Indian immigrants seeking US visas, earning it the sobriquet of 'visa temple'.

But temple officials say the place has seen an increase in visitors since the election of US President Donald Trump, who this month signed an order seeking to reform the "H-1B" work visa system.

The "H-1B" visas are highly sought after by aspiring Indian immigrants but Trump's push to make the permits available only to the most-skilled or highest-paid applicants has many worried.

Software engineer Shreekanth Angirekula was among the fortunate ones, having recently secured a US visa after repeated rejections.

"It's a miracle. I couldn't get a visa for the last two years but after visiting the temple everything went off smoothly," Angirekula, 33, told AFP.

"I am not superstitious but there was definitely divine intervention," he said.

More than 100,000 devotees visit the temple every week, for visas and other reasons.

They proffer their passports and a flower before the deity as they circumambulate the inner sanctum of the temple 11 times while chanting Hindu hymns.

Once the wish is granted, worshippers must return to make 108 rounds of the sanctum.

Chief priest Ranga Rajan said devotees come from across the country in pursuit of visas.

"Same passport, same documents, same embassy and same applicant, but their visas were rejected before coming to the Lord," Rajan told AFP.

"It's all Balaji's blessings," he said, adding "it's not superstition but spiritualism".

The temple's supposedly magical powers gained repute in the 1980s after a group of engineers visited the temple to pray for visas.

They were all granted their wish, and soon, hordes of aspirants followed in their wake.

"I have applied for the visa for (my) studies and I hope Balaji will make it happen," student Raja Shekhar Reddy told AFP.

"This visit has boosted my confidence," he said.