Asia-Pacific, Global, Headlines, North America

Pakistani-Americans Await Changes to India’s Discriminatory Visa Rules

BOSTON, Feb 16 2012 (IPS) - “Imagine you have dual nationality, say Haiti and the United States. You go to apply for a visa at a foreign embassy in Washington, but are told that you can’t use your U.S. passport unless you renounce your Haitian nationality. If you don’t, you must apply and travel using your Haitian passport.”

Salman Noman, a 34-year-old American based in Chicago, uses this hypothetical scenario to illustrate the reality that he and an estimated 500,000 other dual American- Pakistani citizens face when it comes to applying for an Indian visa.

India and Pakistan have agreed to ease mutual visa restrictions, but until they actually do so, American citizens with dual Pakistani nationality will continue to face what they allege is discrimination by the Indian visa authorities.

“To top it all,” Noman told IPS, “Your adopted country, where you live, vote and pay taxes, doesn’t take up your case with the country that is so blatantly discriminating against you.”

Noman, a Georgetown University alumnus who runs his own software company, was naturalised as an American citizen in 2007. He is frustrated with India’s visa policies, as well as with the U.S. Department of State, which he contends does not take up this issue with sufficient vigor.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Noel Clay told IPS the State Department is aware that the Indian government “imposes different policies and requirements” when issuing visas to U.S. citizens of Pakistani ancestry.

He said that the department “has raised its concerns with the Embassy of India in Washington” and that the U.S. Embassy has also discussed the issue with Indian government officials in New Delhi.

“Unfortunately, the State Department is limited in its influence on foreign government visa and immigration actions,” he said. “Visas for travel to India are issued only by Indian authorities and are entirely under the purview of Indian laws, regulations, and procedures.”

This answer was exactly the same as a response Noman had received on Facebook from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs in response to a question regarding Indian visas.

Frustrated by Washington’s “non-committal stand”, Noman initiated a petition entitled, “Ask India to End Discrimination Against U.S. Citizens/Businesses”.

“If U.S. nationals of Pakistan origin, cannot use their U.S. passports while traveling to India, they lose their privileges as U.S. citizens, including U.S. consular access, trade treaties with India, business opportunities, when traveling in India,” the petition points out.

Such restrictions, imposed after the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks facilitated by David Headley, an American citizen of Pakistani origin, affect more than just Americans with Pakistani connections.

A new visa rule imposed in May 2010 requires American citizens of Indian origin to produce a Renunciation Certificate to demonstrate that they are no longer citizens of India.

In addition, all travelers with multiple entry tourist visas are allowed “re-entry to India only after a period of two months between visits” – a curb that appears to be aimed at preventing more Headleys from going in and out of India as the terrorist did several times while on reconnaissance for the Mumbai attacks.

“India has every right to secure its borders from people like Headley,” argues Noman, “but let’s remember that it was lack of background checks and inefficiency in vetting visa applicants that led to his falsified visa application being accepted.”

Headley should not be used as an excuse to generalise about all U.S. citizens of Pakistani origin, he adds. “It feels terrible to be flagged without any reason,” he told IPS, “just because someone who shared similar background as you did something terrible.”

India and Pakistan have mutually restrictive visa policies, reminiscent more of a cold war situation than of two neighbours with so much cultural and linguistic affinity.

Both countries grant visas to each other’s citizens usually after drawn out processes. The visas are usually single-entry permits valid for a few weeks at most, and also for a limited number of cities. Visitors must enter and exit from the same points, using the same mode of transport, and report to the police within 24 hours of arrival and departure.

Until 2009, expatriate Indians and Pakistanis with foreign passports were exempt from these restrictions, even though their visa applications often took longer. American citizens of Pakistani descent had the same rights and privileges as other American travelers.

The new restrictions are based more on “bureaucratic processes” than on security concerns, believes Ibrahim Sajid Malick, a New York-based technologist and former journalist of Pakistani origin, married to a woman of Indian origin.

He calls on India to “streamline the process” and “identify the individuals who may pose a threat”, pointedly asking, “If the Western Union can check up on an individual within minutes, why can’t embassy officials?”

Malick, who is familiar with ‘know your customer’ information gathering tools, told IPS, “The only people who can fool the system are those who are part of the system,” as was Headley, who was a paid informer for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

He questions whether India is trying improve security or simply keep Pakistanis and people of Pakistani origin out of the country, although he also points out that Pakistanis are received in the “most heartwarming way when they do visit India, and vice versa”.

“And yet both countries try their best to keep the people apart.”

The Indian Embassy in Washington did not respond to repeated phone calls and emails from IPS regarding questions raised by these issues.

Recent news does offer some hope, however. India and Pakistan have both agreed to a newly finalised draft that revises a bilateral visa agreement from 1974. The proposed easing of visa rules is aimed at normalising trade ties by the end of the year.

Until that actually happens, however, American Pakistanis wanting to visit India will just have to put up with the inconvenience of being dealt with by the Indian Embassy as Pakistanis, not Americans.

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  • Mumbai victim

    No more Kasab in India please.

  • F. Khan

    I hope that with the signing of the accord a few days back things will improve, when? we have to wait and see. In as much as, “India’s Discriminatory Visa Rules”, we should not be blaming just India, it is quid pro quo…. Pakistan does exactly the same.

  • lucky

    This is sad….I dont understand why India would impose all these restrictions so hard.
    FYI kasab didnot have a visa

  • a

    Well, we (Indians) are not exactly thrilled about pakis visiting our India. Period.

  • Jen

    First of all, you (indians) need to be mature and avoid the past conflicts that have happened. You guys are just so’s ridiculous! Also, if a person has lived in the U.S. more than 30 years of their life, and not once made a visit to Pakistan. How can you freaking consider then Pakastani. Yeah that was were there were born, but they have U.S. nationality. I’m so glad us (Americans) aren’t so ignorant like you people.

  • Jen

    I agree they do. I’m not saying it is just India’s fault. I think its about time that both countries grow some balls and sort things out. Instead of being so violent towards each other. Someone needs to step up and be the bigger person.

  • Guy

    I don’t what’s the fuss all about? It’s simple: If it is something that doesn’t suit you don’t go for it. Doesn’t have to work hard to understand. You can’t force governments to change their stand. They won’t. Why to take it personal? The process is cumbersome & dirty just leave it. I haven’t seen any Indian nudging about visa policy adopted by Pakistan Govt. That leaves me baffled: Why Pakistani Americans are so disturbed about it? Infact the policy is for every Pakistani origin person who hold dual citizenship. Just shun India that’s it!!!

  • Guy

    Reality bites!!! Let’s cool down. REMEMBER “Visa is a Privilege” NOT a “Right”. You request for it NOT demand it. If you think American passport hold great value that’s your perception. Someone not visiting Pakistan his/her whole life is “no criterion” to be qualified for a visa. Although I believe you can’t have the same yardstick for everyone. But as I said it depends on issuing authority & in case of India & Pakistani it is influenced on a daily basis. Just to ponder: Why India have such policies for Pakistan & not for other countries???

  • Ihtsham (princetonking@gmail)

    I (as American Pakistani)
    could be wrong, but I have personally experienced that especially the new
    generation from both sides would love to see both countries with more interaction.
    Take example of entertainers visiting India, I disagree with you bro, saying
    that Indians are not thrilled about Pakis, please don’t quote on behalf of all
    Indians. Infact my father who is 81 years old and so many other of the same age
    bracket had often said that ” Partition was a big mistake” It is all bloody
    politicians and sneaky politics which throw the hatred beans, and we not as Americans,
    but as an average Pakistanis & Indian Citizens suffers! SAD! The only thing
    I have left is “Hope”

  • mac

    No Pakistani Please , “a” is right . Don’t want Lecture from Pakistani on Love and Discrimination It’s Theocratic Country which Put People on Death Row for “Blasphemy” lol .

  • srkris

    Pakistan still claims (as they did in the 1940s to justify demanding a partition of India into India and Pakistan) that they are a Muslim nation who can’t co-exist peacefully with Hindus (who form the majority of India’s population as they have always done), and holds that this basis of India’s 1947 partition is still valid. Pakistan therefore needs to invent differences with India to justify their national existence (their national identity is defined as “anti-Hindu” & “anti-India”). India on the other hand has never defined itself as anti-Pakistan, it has a bigger Muslim population than Pakistan. This is not an India-Pakistan issue at all for India to address it, it is Pakistan’s own national schizoprenia. India hates Pakistan’s unhelpful attitude, and terrorist credentials that have wreaked havoc in what is otherwise an inherently secular south-asian societal edifice.

    You are saying it’s not “just” India’s fault, and are thereby equivocating India and Pakistan as if both of them are equally at fault. You don’t seem to understand the issue at all, so it’s better you stopped preaching as if you do!

  • Satyameva Jayate

    Born in Pak.
    Live with it.

  • Satyameva Jayate

    Past? No it is not past!
    Even today, Pak OFFICIAL stand is that they WILL NOT stop people from ILLEGALLY crossing LOC. You should ask your country to change that…. If your own country does not listen to you, why should another country???

  • East Indian

    Coming to india is a previlage not a right of foreign citizen. Indian gov has every right to protect indians from threats of domestic or foreign