The News Minute | September 18, 2014 | 08:43 am IST
Kathmandu: SAARC immigration officials here on Wednesday proposed to exempt from visa requirement 50 eminent people listed by the grouping under 24 categories to enable their hassle-free travel in member countries, an official said.
The proposal was made at the sixth meeting of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) immigration officials after deliberations on various issues concerning visa liberalisation within the bloc that includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
According to Sudarsan Dhakal, director general of Nepal's immigration department, each member state would issue not more than 50 visas on yearly basis, at least for now, to 50 eminent personalities listed under 24 categories.
As of now, visas have been exempted by the member states for dignitaries like senior government officials, participants of SAARC meetings and officials of SAARC secretariat and its regional centres.
Bangladesh had proposed that up to 200 people should be exempted from visa requirement to travel within the bloc but other member states rejected the idea.
Other proposals included an IT-enabled SAARC visa system and sharing of security details with each other to avoid any untoward security situation, a source said.
The meeting also decided to set up an immigration network at senior level.
The meeting also agreed to upgrade immigration facilities in member states by adding modern technologies, updating software and more security features on Saarc stickers.
The SAARC visa exemption scheme was launched in 1992 during the fourth SAARC summit in Islamabad. The aim of the scheme was to increase people-to-people contact in member countries. It was also decided that certain categories of dignitaries should be entitled to a special travel document, which would exempt them from visas while travelling in the region.
The meeting on Wednesday sought to expand the scope of this visa exemption scheme. The scheme currently entitles a limited number of people to visa-free travel within the region, said Dhakal.
The fifth SAARC summit in November 1990 in the Maldives had decided to launch the scheme with a view to put in place a visa-free regime in South Asia.
The current list of eminent personalities under the SAARC visa scheme includes 24 categories of people like judges of higher courts, parliamentarians, senior officials, businessmen, journalists and sportspersons.
The visa stickers issued by the respective member states to these persons are generally valid for one year. The guidelines and procedures governing the visa scheme provide for annual meetings of immigration authorities of member states in order to facilitate its smooth functioning.
In the past, India and Pakistan were cagey over the several visa liberalisation proposals due to security concerns. To give momentum to the process, the Asian Development Bank and SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industries prepared a draft proposal to expand the scheme in the grouping.