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September 8, 2012

New Indo-Pak visa regime to enhance people-to-people contacts

     Islamabad: India and Pakistan will ink a new bilateral visa agreement today that will be markedly and comparatively different from the previous pact. Eight categories of visas, including diplomatic, non-diplomatic, transit, tourist visas, civil society, media and business visas would be offered under the new agreement. Adviser to the Pakistan Prime Minister on Interior Affairs Rehman Malik and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna would sign the visa agreement. According to a Ministry of External Affairs release, the changes in various forms of visas is as follows: Diplomatic Visa: In Category I, in the previous agreement there was no mention of timeframe for issuing such a visa, but in the new one, the diplomatic visa will be issued within a period not exceeding 30 days of its application. In the old visa agreement, the period of validity was of one year, while in the new agreement; the visa will be valid for the place and duration of assignment. Special permission will also be sought for visiting other places. In Category II of the same diplomatic visa, a single entry visa was granted to high-ranking dignitaries in the old agreement, while in the new agreement; such visas will be granted to high-ranking dignitaries holding diplomatic passports. In the old visa agreement, the purpose of the visit had to be mentioned i.e. official, business or international conference, while in the new agreement; there would be no special mention of the purpose of visit. Non-Diplomatic Visa: In the old visa agreement, there is no mention of timeframe for issuing such a visa, but in the new pact, a non-diplomatic visa will be issued within a period not exceeding 45 days of application. Official Visa: In the old visa agreement, such a visa had a validity of one month, while in the new one, it will be valid for 15 days. Visitor Visa: Under the old visa agreement, a single entry visa was to be issued for three months for meeting relatives, friends, business or other legitimate purpose, but in the new one, the single entry visa to be issued for a maximum period six months, but stay will not exceed three months at a time and will be restricted to five places only (currently, it is limited to three places). In the old visa agreement, the visitor visa could be issued for longer period not exceeding one year, depending on the nature of work or business, but under the new visa agreement, the business visa will be separated from the visitor’s visa. A second category has been incorporated for issuing a visitor visa in the new agreement, which is that a visitor visa for a maximum five specified places may be issued for a longer period of up to two years with multiple entries to: (i)Senior citizens (those above 65 years of age); (ii) Spouse of a national of one country married to person of another country and (iii)Children below 12 years of age accompanying parent(s). Transit visa: In the old agreement, such a visa was issued for 72 hours, while in the new agreement; it will be restricted to 36 hours. Group Tourist visa: In the old visa agreement, there was no provision made for issuing such visas, but in the new agreement, it will be issued for not less than ten people and not more than 50 people. It will be valid for 30 days, organized by approved tour operators/travel agents, who will have to furnish details 45 days in advance. The tour operator will be responsible for police reporting on behalf of the group under the new pact. Secondly, under the new visa agreement, a list of designated tour operators as well as a list of approved, identified routes and tourist destinations will be exchanged by both sides from time to time. Thirdly, the Group Tourist Visa facility will also be available to students of educational institutions of both countries. However, this will be a tourist visa only and not for seeking admission in educational institutions of either country. Business visa: In the old agreement, the business visa was declared a part of the visitor visa, and single entry was granted for three months, and for one year in certain cases. Under the new agreement, businessmen with an income of Pak Rs.0.5 million or equivalent per annum or annual turnover / gross sale of Pak Rs.3 million or equivalent will be given one year business visa, with five places for up to four entries. In category II of the business visa, bsinessmen with an income of at least Pak Rs.5 million or equivalent per annum or a turnover Pak Rs.30 million or equivalent per annum will be given one year multiple entry business visas for up to ten places, with exemption from police reporting. The visa shall specify that the period of stay of the businessman at a time shall not exceed 30 days. The maximum time taken in processing of a business visa will not exceed more than five weeks. Pilgrim Visa: Under the old agreement, there was no provision for such visas, but in the new one; pilgrim visas will be issued to pilgrims intending to visit religious shrines as per the 1974 Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines, or any future revision to the Protocol. Such visas will need to be applied at least 45 days before the commencement of the intended tour. The visas will be issued at least ten days before the commencement of travel. These visas will be issued for a single entry, restricted to 15 days validity and would be non-extendable Visa on arrival: In the old agreement, there was no provision for such visas, but in the new pact, persons of more than 65 years of age will be given visa on arrival at the Attari/Wagha check-post for 45 days, which will be non-extendable and non-convertible. Check Posts: Under the old agreement, By Air-India: Mumbai, Delhi and Amritsar, while in Pakistan, it was Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Under the new visa regime, Chennai has been added to Mumbai and Delhi. By Sea, check-posts was established in Mumbai and Karachi, and remains the same under the new agreement. By Land, check-posts remain the same i.e. Wagha/Attari and Khokhrapar/Munabao. Under the old visa regime, persons had to enter and exit through the same route and had to use same mode of travel for onward and return journey, while exemptions were made on a case-to-case basis. Under the new visa regime, people can enter and exit from different check posts and change in mode of travel will also be permitted. However, this will be subject to the exception that Exit from Wagha/Attari, by road (on Foot) cannot be accepted, unless the entry was also by foot via Attari/Wagha. Registration: Registration of visas will take place in 24 hours. However, while in the old visa regime, Exemption from Police Reporting (EPR) was given on a case-to-case basis, under the new visa regime, persons of more than sixty-five years of age, children below twelve years of age and eminent businessmen will be exempted from police reporting. Bonafide businessmen, not in EPR category, may depute their authorized representatives for reporting under the new visa regime. As far as seamen are concerned, under the old visa regime, they were issued a landing permit for a period not exceeding 24 hrs. This remains in operation in the new visa regime. Fee: Currently 12 Indian Rupees or 15 Pakistani Rupees, while in the new visa regime, it will be fixed at 100 Pakistani Rupees or equivalent in Indian Rupees. Validity of Visa: Under the old regime, there was no provision for validity of visa, but under the new regime, the applicant must avail the visa within a period of 90 days from the date of issue. If there are grounds requiring extension of validity, the concerned mission will take a decision on such requests on priority. This provision will not be applicable to the holders of Business Visa.
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