ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani authorities are considering a major overhaul in the country’s visa policy following media reports that a covert, CIA-led team, which was allowed to conduct surveillance on the Taliban and al Qaeda, was gathering information about Pakistan’s defence installations.
The authorities are studying a proposal which suggests that all Pakistani embassies and diplomatic missions abroad be stopped from issuing visas, a source told The Express Tribune. Instead, it says, the ministry of foreign affairs should be made the sole visa-issuing authority.
The source confirmed that the move has resulted from the ongoing spat between Pakistan and the United States over the ‘American CIA agent’ Raymond Davis, who is currently in detention for killing two Pakistanis in Lahore.
It also came following disclosures that hundreds of foreigners, including American nationals, had been issued Pakistani visas in violation of the national security code.
“The new policy is being envisaged because the authorities have learnt a lesson,” the source said referring to the Pak-US diplomatic row over Davis.
“After its implementation, the visa-issuing authority would be taken back from all Pakistani embassies and diplomatic missions,” the source explained.
“Only the ministry of foreign affairs will be authorised to issue visas.” In the same breath the source added that the interior ministry would have no say in granting extension in visa to any foreigner.
Instead of visiting Pakistan’s embassies and diplomatic missions, the visa seekers would be required to submit their applications to the foreign ministry through courier services.
The new policy also envisages manifold increase in visa fees which would be non-refundable.
Thirty or ninety days non-extendable visit visa will be issued to foreigners from Islamabad, except for diplomats and military personnel who normally get visas at the airports.
The visit visa will not be converted into residence or work visa by the interior ministry. Any aspirant for residence or work visa would have to return home. The foreign ministry will issue “Alien Identity Cards” to all those foreigners who will be issued residence visa. The immigration staff will be given special training to handle foreigners at air and sea ports and all other entry points.
An official source in the foreign office told The Express Tribune that the Pakistan embassy in Washington had issued visas to over 500 US nationals in one go without them being cleared by the security and intelligence agencies.
“More than 100 US nationals were issued visas from Pakistan’s consulate-general in Dubai, last year,” the source said, adding that the visa issuance from Dubai consulate is still continuing. “Fifty Indian nationals were also issued visas by the Pakistani diplomatic mission in Dubai,” the source added.
“All of them were given visas in violation of the visa policy of the ministry of foreign affairs and related instructions by the ministry of interior,” the official added. “It transpired that a highly influential Pakistani individual had issued verbal instructions to the consul-general to issue the visas.”
Some blacklisted foreigners were also issued visas from Washington, Dubai and New Delhi in recent past, the official said.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2011.