#Southasia Ease visa restrictions, let people meet #MilneDo
#Southasia Ease visa restrictions, let people meet #MilneDo
This August marks 75 years since India gained independence from the British colonists and was simultaneously partitioned as the new country of Pakistan was born. In 1971, there was further independence and partition as East Pakistan became Bangladesh. These momentous events are marked with much blood and pain.
It is time to heal the pain. Let people meet, “milne do”. Let us ‘reclaim Southasia’, to quote the late journalist I.A. Rehman.
It is essential to allow people-to-people contact in order to fulfil the objectives of SAARC, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation which aims to “promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia” in all ways possible and to enable the peoples of the region to “live in dignity and to realise their full potential”.
People-to-people contacts are a prerequisite for building mutual trust and genuine collaboration. This is what will enable us to break from the past and repudiate the legacy of hatred and animosity. Our people and countries can reach their full potential and 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.
In order for this to happen, the citizens of the region need to have freedom of movement and be able to meet each other freely.
We therefore call on the governments and peoples of Southasian nations to work towards instituting soft borders and visa-free Southasia, or visa-on-arrival, and freedom of trade and travel to each other’s citizens:
- Institute soft borders, ease visa restrictions, and/or allow visa-on-arrival at least to some categories for each others’ citizens as Nepal and Sri Lanka do.
- Allow long-term visas to members of divided families as well as those who meet the visa criteria. This is particularly crucial for Pakistanis and Indians marrying across the border who often have a hard time obtaining a visa for their spouse's country, and once there, to obtain visas for their original country.
- Allow cross-border spouses from other Southasian countries the same rights and privileges as full citizens. Currently, 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
- Decriminalise inadvertent border crossings. This will save enormous amounts of trauma as well as resources.
- Make student visas more freely available and enable more youth exchanges across the region.
In addition, Pakistan and India need to specifically address certain issues, some of which are outdated in today’s cyber world. We therefore call upon both governments to implement their agreement of September 8, 2012 that heralded a new visa regime between the two countries. We urge both governments to:
- Implement the 2012 agreement that allows visa-on-arrival for senior citizens and exempts senior citizens and children under 12 from police reporting, and extend this facility to members of divided families children at all entry points.
- Extend the visa duration of senior citizens and divided family members to three years, or at least a year, even as the 2012 agreement which allowed some categories of visitors to obtain six-month multiple entry visas has yet to be implemented.
- Remove restrictions for cross-border spouses.
- Currently, it is hard for cross-border spouses to travel outside the country.
- Police permission before departure from the city of residence and reporting on arrival is required for short term travel.
- For a long term move, the long-term visa (LTV) has to be reissued for the new city.
- An LTV does not entitle the spouse to work, open a bank account or own property. Non-Indian spouses with PIO (Person of Indian Origin) or OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) status may avail of these facilities. However, no citizen of any country that has a common border with India can get a PIO or OCI status.
- Make visas valid for the entire country , rather than a few specific cities, subject to reasonable restrictions.
- Relax the rule that requires specification of entry and exit points at the time of visa application. Once permission is granted, visitors don’t have the option to change their travel itinerary.
- Let cross-border visitors make their own itineraries and travel freely. The 2012 agreement between India and Pakistan added tourist visas as valid reasons for application. However, this is only allowed for groups going through approved tour operators.
- Make police reporting on arrival and departure from every city an exception rather than the norm.
- Re-open and operate the Munabao-Khokrapar border crossing at least at the same level as the Wagah-Attari border crossing, facilitating visits between the largest group of citizens on either side with living family connections at the other side.
- Re-open the Mumbai and Karachi consulates, and consider opening more consulates in major cities
- Curtail unnecessary paperwork; remove the requirement of ‘sponsorship certificates’ from Indian officials for Pakistani citizens. Obtaining this sponsorship is difficult and deters Pakistani visitors from applying for a visa.
- Ease visa restrictions for citizens of third countries who are of Indian or Pakistani descent or dual nationals. Third country citizens of Pakistani descent who apply for Indian visas must apply using their Pakistani passports, or renounce Pakistani nationality if they want to use their adopted country’s passports, or file an affidavit that they were never Pakistanis. These applications face inordinate delays.
- Allow cross-border journalists to be posted in each other’s countries.
- Remove the ban on cross-border media, television and publications.
This is a petition by Southasia Peace Action Network or Sapan, in collaboration with: Aghaaz-e-Dosti, Aman Ki Asha, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), India Pakistan Heritage Club, Nijera Kori, Tehrik-e-Niswan, Samaaj, Sangat, Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), Laal Band, Uks Resource Centre; Centre for Peace and Secular Studies; Centre for Social Justice; Association of Peoples of Asia; Confederation of Voluntary Associations (COVA) Peace Network; Indo Pak Book Lovers Club - A Peace Initiative; Roobaroo; People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL); Boston South Asia Coalition; Nirmala Deshpande Sansthan; eShe; Peace Initiative Bhutan; Huqooq-e-Khalq Party, Pakistan; American Sikh Forum Inc; South Asia Partnership-Pakistan (SAP-PK). Based on the petition initially launched by Aman Ki Asha in 2012, updated in November 2016 and January 2019.