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Indian project to track foreigners begins with B’desh
Published on 18 Nov. 2009 12:30 AM IST
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India’s long-term project to track the movement of foreign nationals applying for its visas will kick off with Bangladeshi citizens. As part of the e-governance plan, the government had drawn up a mission mode project for immigration, visa and foreigners registration and tracking called IVFRT. It is driven by the home ministry. The Bangalore-based National Institute of Smart Governance (NISG) had submitted two voluminous reports on the project, which listed out the concerns and challenges of the different stakeholders. According to a home ministry official, the two reports are under consideration. “The implementation is highly complicated, which may even require legislative changes,” said a home ministry official. The Planning Commission has in principle approved Rs.1,100 crore for the project to be completed by 2014, with cabinet approval expected by the end of this year. The pilot project has been sanctioned to start at the Indian high commission in Bangladesh, which gives out the largest number of visas than any other Indian mission. “The Indian mission is a crucial link in the project - being the first point of interface of a foreign national with the Indian system,” said a senior official. In 2008, 5.23 lakh (523,000) visas were issued by the mission in Dhaka and two Indian consulates in Bangladesh. This translates to over 1,400 visas a day. Nearly 46 percent of visa seekers are in the category of visits to relatives or for religious centres, with another 40 percent issued for business people. Bangladesh also perhaps accounts for the largest number of India visa violators, with over 25,000 of its nationals reported to have over-stayed beyond their visa validity. According to an official, a time-table has been drawn up for the pilot project to start. This includes standardizing the visa forms, fine-tuning the number of documents required for visa, as well as deciding on the access control of applicants to the mission premises. An important change would be the inclusion of information on the length of permitted stay in the ‘machine readable zone’ of the visa sticker. “Right now, an official usually manually ascertains if the visa is valid or not. Therefore there is always a possibility of human error. When visa validity is included in the zone, then the system will automatically put a red flag if the holder has over-stayed,” he said. He pointed out that both Pakistan and Bangladesh are “special cases” for visa applications. “We already have a specialised system in place for these two countries. We are now just expanding on their current capabilities.” One of the major problems of Indian missions is the verification of documents. This is especially critical in a country like Bangladesh, where documents are often submitted in local languages. Besides, there is a drive on to scan all the application forms and documents to digitized them. “Right now, we have a shortage of space in the Dhaka high commission to store these documents,” the official said. Overall, the objective of the ambitious project is to develop an integrated system so that all agencies are able to upload as well as tap information from a centralised database, which will have information not just on all applicants but will also include the latest blacklists of the home ministry. “We often get complaints that the blacklists are not frequently updated on the current system,” an official said. Ultimately, the system will be able to provide a profile of every visa applicant - listing his prior travel, length of stay and where he stayed.

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