Visa clearance for people from Pak,Afghanistan eased

In a relief for minority communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has made changes in the process for granting long-term visas (LTVs) to them to ensure that they are not harassed by officials.

Amid complaints that officials were using the prevailing norms to extort money from visa applicants, the MHA has reduced the time limit for security clearance of applicants from 45 days to 21 days.

The state governments will have to take a decision within 21 days and if it is not done, the approval of the Centre is deemed to be taken. The MHA also puts the onus on the state government if any security implication arises in the future.

A senior official said the longer window of 45 days have led to delays and chances of corruption and the decision to decrease the waiting time was taken to ensure that no applicant was harassed.

Once an application is filed and it reaches the central system, it is forwarded to the state government, the Intelligence Bureau and the MHA. The state government is supposed to do a background check on the applicants. Once the response on an application from all the three wings is received in the system, the application is automatically processed.

This visa facility was first introduced in 2011 for persecuted Hindus from Pakistan and it was extended to Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Afghanistan nationals belonging to Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian and Jain communities, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014.

Under Narendra Modi government, the issuance of LTVs to Pakistani Hindus surged. While the LTVs granted to Pakistani Hindus from 2011 to 2014 stood at 14,726, another 15,244 LTVs were issued between January 2015 and July 16 this year.

Property purchase

The official said the decision to relax the norms also came as the government is not able to pass Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016.

To help minority communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh -- Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians -- the government had been granting them long-term visas to buy residential property here. This was part of the Narendra Modi government's policy to help minorities persecuted in the neighbouring countries.

The government had also allowed free movement within the state or union territory where they were staying. Such people were also allowed to take up self-employment.

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