We welcome the signing of the new visa regime between the governments of India and Pakistan in their historic agreement of September 8, 2012, that has added new categories – in particular tourist visas - and eased some restrictions. This is a positive step in the right direction. We urge the governments to stay the course. The space for the hand of friendship to be extended across this border has expanded, but many of our other demands remain to be met, to allow people-to-people contact between India and Pakistan. These include:
- Allow long-term visas to people with families and to applicants who meet the visa criteria. [Some categories of visitors will now be able to obtain six-month multiple entry visas. We urge the governments to extend the duration to three years, or a year at least]
- Allow Indian and Pakistani cross-border spouses the same rights and privileges as spouses of other countries married to Indian or Pakistani citizens, or at least resident visas. [Not addressed].**See Note** below
- Allow visa on arrival to senior citizens and members of divided families, particularly children at all entry points. [The new visa regime enables senior citizens aged 65 and above to get a visa on arrival at Wagah/Attari border only, single entry, for up to 45 days only. This should be multiple entry for at least a year]
- Allow tourist visas between India and Pakistan [Tourist visas are now allowed for groups of between 10 to 50 going through approved tour operators. We urge governments to allow individuals to make their own itineraries and travel freely in both countries]
- Make police reporting on arrival and departure the exception rather than the rule [Senior citizens and children under 12 are now exempted from police reporting; this should be the case for all visitors except for certain cases]
- Do away with the requirement of entry and exit from the same point, using the same mode of transport [People can enter and exit from different check posts and change in mode of travel will also be permitted, except for those entering by foot/road at Wagha/Attari]
- Allow visas to be valid for the entire country (subject to reasonable restrictions) rather than one or two cities [Visitors will now be able to get visas for up to five cities – but the country visa is still elusive]
- Re-open the Mumbai and Karachi consulates, and consider opening more consulates in major cities [Not addressed]
- Make student visas freely available [Not addressed]
- Curtail unnecessary paperwork; [Not addressed. Pakistani visa applicants still have to obtain a ‘sponsorship certificate’ from India]
- Ease visa restrictions for citizens of other countries who are of Indian or Pakistani descent, dual nationals, or expatriates from each other's countries. [Not addressed. Pakistanis living abroad must apply for Indian visas on their Pakistani passports or renounce Pakistani nationality if they want to use their adopted country’s passports]
In addition, the governments must do away with restrictions that are completely outdated in today’s cyber world, and to:
- Allow more than two journalists each to be based in each other’s countries [Not addressed]
- Undo the ban on cell-phone roaming [Not addressed]
- Undo the ban on cross-border media, television and publications [Not addressed]
The authorities must refrain from trying to control the movements of their people, when their minds are free. It is mutual trust and genuine collaboration that will enable us to break from the past and repudiate the legacy of hatred and animosity. We can truly progress when ideas and art, business and tourism, and collaboration in the fields of health, sustainability and poverty alleviation are allowed to flourish and flow. Only then can our people and countries reach their full potential.
** NOTE: Indians or Pakistanis who give up their original nationality to marry across the border have to go through the same hassle as others to obtain a visa for their original country. Pakistani spouses of Indians do not have automatic residential rights. They get a city specific Long Term Visa (LTV) granted to them as spouses, which requires annual renewal; Outside travel is allowed only once a year, though sometimes waived. But police permission before departure and reporting on arrival is mandatory. Internal travel is also restricted. Police permission before departure and reporting on arrival is required for short term travel. For a long term move, the LTV has to be reissued for the new city. An LTV does not entitle them to work, open a bank account or own property. These facilities are available to non-Indian spouses if they have PIO (Person of Indian Origin) or OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) status. However, no citizen of any country that has a common border with India can get a PIO or OCI status.
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