The Indian High Commission is keen on promoting the steady increase in business visa applications from Pakistan and has also started a visa helpline to facilitate the process.

Trade between India and Pakistan is gaining paramount importance and the Commerce Minister Anand Sharma is likely to visit Pakistan from February 16 to 18 to coincide with the trade fair in Lahore.

On Thursday, the Indian High Commission held a half- day workshop on business visa facilitation which was attended by business persons and chambers of commerce from all over the country.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr T C A Raghavan, Indian High Commissioner, said in the recent past there has been a significant increase of travel from Pakistan to India. This is a trend which began in 2004 and on the whole continued up to the present, he said.

The new India-Pakistan Bilateral Visa Agreement of 2012 superseded in many ways the old visa regime of 1974. It was after a very long time that significant changes were made after so many years and it upgraded the possibility of bonafide business travel in two countries, he pointed out.

The high commission had moved to a more web-based platform for processing visa applications and soon there would be a major reliance on biometrics. The third stage possibly will be perhaps more advanced where the process will be be totally web-based, but that is still very much in the future, he added.

Mr. Janesh, first secretary, consular, passports and visa, Indian High Commission, said that there was an encouraging trend of applications from regions instead of cities only and a rise in applications from small and medium enterprises. The number of first time applicants is also on the rise.

He said efforts should be directed at making better relations and building bridges. Appointments for visas were also encouraged and the high commission has put out an email and phone numbers for this purpose, he said.

Mr. Gopal Baglay, deputy high commissioner, said that the government was trying to simplify procedures and welcomed suggestions and changes. No chamber of commerce was too small, he said and the government was trying to promote interaction between Indian and Pakistani businessmen.

Many business persons present raised visa related issues and wanted flexibility in travel regulations. Women said that often when their flights were cancelled, they needed a road option as well otherwise they were stranded.

Others raised the issue of the Wagah border closing at four pm. More importantly, the need for police reporting was questioned and there were demands for flexibility in visiting multiple cities in India.