Indian officials explain new visa regime

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Jan 31, 2014.

In what appears to be another step towards improvement in bilateral trade relations, Pakistani business professionals got a first-hand opportunity on Thursday to get their queries about getting a business visa to India answered directly by Indian High Commission officials.

The High Commission of India in Pakistan hosted business professionals from around the country at a “workshop on business visa facilitation for bilateral trade promotion” at a local hotel in the federal capital.

“This is the first outreach activity by the Indian High Commission to provide information for stakeholders in Pakistan for getting business visas to India under the new visa regime,” Gopal Baglay, India’s Deputy High Commissioner to Pakistan, told The Express Tribune.

The new visa regime, which relaxed visa restrictions between the neighbouring countries, had come in to effect almost a year ago but there is little awareness about it, Baglay said.

Indian officials at the workshop said “bonafide” Pakistani business people can obtain a one-year multiple-entry business visa for visiting up to 10 Indian cities, if they fulfill the criteria set down in the visa regulations.

Business people who can provide documentary evidence for annual income of more than PKR5 million or annual turnover of PKR 30million can avail this opportunity and also be exempted from police reporting after landing in India, the officials said.

With annual income more than PKR0.5 million or annual turnover of more than PKR3 million, Pakistani business people can apply for a one-year business visa for five places for up to four entries a year, according to the visa rules.

Indian High Commission officials also gave a demonstration of filling an online visa application form to help the participants understand the process better.

The workshop was organised at a time when dialogue over trade relations between India and Pakistan seem to be restarting ahead of the Indian general elections, after year 2013 saw hostility between the two nations over the Line-of-Control and stiffness in bilateral trade.

Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Commerce Khurram Dastgir visited India two weeks ago for the SAARC Conclave and spoke about getting Pakistani businesses access to the Indian market. The Indian government will also be organizing an Indian exhibition, “The India Show,” from February 14 to 16 in Lahore.

“The underlying objective of the business visa workshop is to promote interaction, trade and exchanges between India and Pakistan,” Baglay said.

But the workshop also served another purpose: getting Indian officials feedback from the Paksitani business community over difficulties they are facing in the visa process.

During a rigorous discussion session, Pakistani participants did not hold back in expressing the challenges they have faced in doing business with India.

Members of different Pakistani industries and representatives of chambers of commerce from across the country raised the issue of last-minute visas and city-based restrictions, difficulties in police reporting, technical problems in online visa application form and the hassle for regular business visitors to repeat the same visa process each year.

Responding to the questions, Bagley said it is very important that the business community submit the visa application in a timely manner. He said High Commission staff tries to process the visas as soon as possible. The average time for business visa approval is less than the maximum 45-day period specified in visa information literature, Bagley said.

Indian officials said they encourage business people to apply for multiple-entry visas. They said they are adding the Wagah-Atari by-road travel option automatically to visa applications to facilitate visitors who miss their weekly flight from Delhi.

Rajesh Kumar Agnihotri, the Indian Economic and Commercial Counsellor, said a vintage car show and cultural gala would accompany the Indian trade exhibition in Lahore in February.

Agnihotri said a convoy of around 40 vintage cars from India will travel from Amritsar to Wagah-Atari border where they would be escorted to Lahore by a convoy of vintage cars from Pakistan.

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