ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and India on Saturday signed a landmark liberalised visa pact, introducing for the first time visa on arrival for senior citizens, tourist and pilgrim visa and one-year multiple entry visa for businessmen.
Time-bound visa approval for all the categories and exemption from police reporting in different categories are some of the significant features of the agreement signed between Interior Minister Rehman Malik and the visiting Indian Minister for External Affairs S.M. Krishna.
The pact supersedes all previous agreements on the subject and is open to amendments by mutual consent through exchange of notes or signing of supplementary protocols.
The accord was slated for signature in May during the interior secretary-level talks in New Delhi, but was put off after a decision to do so at a higher level.
Under the agreement, citizens aged 65 years or above will be granted single entry visa for 45 days on arrival at the Wagah border. This visa will be non-extendable and non-convertible. To the surprise of many, the facility will not be available to senior citizens travelling by air.
The agreement makes no mention of visas for journalists and cultural troupes.
Pilgrim visas will be issued to people intending to visit religious places. Applications will have to be submitted at least 45 days before commencement of the intended tour. The visas will be issued at least 10 days before commencement of the trip. These non-extendable, single entry visas will be valid for 15 days.
Group tourist visas will be issued for travel in batches of no less than 10 members, and not exceeding 50. Such visas will be issued only for trips organised by government-approved tour operators. The operator will have to submit applications at least 45 days before commencement of the tour.
He shall also furnish a list of intending tourists, along with complete information about the itinerary. The operator will be responsible for police reporting, on behalf of the group, both on arrival and before departure.
The group tourist visa facility will be available to students of educational institutions, too. But this will be a tourist visa only and not valid for seeking admission in educational institutions of either country.
Islamabad, Delhi mean business
Business visas will be issued to bona fide businessmen in two different categories. Businessmen with an income of at least 500,000 Pakistani rupees or equivalent per annum or an annual turnover of Rs3 million will be given one-year visa for five places and with four entries.
In the second category, businessmen with an income of at least Rs5 million or turnover of Rs30 million per annum will be given one-year multiple entry visas for 10 places. They will be exempt from police reporting.
The visa shall specify that the period of stay at a time shall not exceed 30 days. The maximum time allowed for processing of an application for a business visa will not exceed five weeks.
A diplomatic visa valid for multiple entries will be issued to the heads of diplomatic and consular missions, members of the mission holding diplomatic or consular rank, their spouses and children and diplomatic couriers. This visa will be issued within a period not exceeding 30 days after submission of an application.
For visiting other places, special permission will be required. Diplomatic visas valid for single entry will be given to high-ranking dignitaries holding diplomatic passports.
A non-diplomatic visa valid for multiple entries will be given to non-diplomatic members of diplomatic and consular missions, their spouses and children and personal servants of members of the mission holding diplomatic or consular ranks. It shall ordinarily be issued within a period not exceeding 45 days after submission of applications.
Under the new regime, Pakistanis and Indians can visit five places instead of the existing three. The duration of the visa has been extended from three to six months, but a maximum stay of three months would be permissible at a time.
A visitor visa for a longer period of up to two years, with multiple entries, will be issued to senior citizens, national of one country married to a national of the other country, and children below 12 years of age accompanying at least one of the parents.
Transit visa valid for up to two entries in the city or port of entry for 36 hours in each case will be issued to persons travelling by air or sea and proceeding from another country to another country. No visa will be required for a passenger directly through an air or sea port, but they will be required to remain confined to the area set apart for transit passengers.
Krishna calls on Malik
Earlier, Mr Krishna called on Interior Minister Rehman Malik. Foreign secretaries of the two countries and Pakistan’s Interior Secretary Khawaja Siddiq Akbar were also present.
Mr Malik assured Mr Krishna that `non-state actors’ would not be allowed to hold relations with India hostage.
The Indian side raised the matter of prosecution in the Mumbai attacks case and was told that the trial was under way. Mr Malik sought India’s cooperation for ensuring a visit by Pakistan’s judicial commission. The team has already visited India once.
Mr Krishna invited the interior minister to New Delhi. The invitation was accepted and it is believed Mr Malik is likely to visit India in November.