Unveils liberal visa regime to promote trade, cultural cooperation

Living up to the promise made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to remove trade and non-tariff barriers between the two countries, India, as a pro-active step, has decided to adopt a liberal visa policy for various categories of Bangladesh nationals to promote economic engagement, people to people contact, cultural activity and tourism between the two nations.

It was in October when both countries agreed during the Home Secretary-level talks to hold an exclusive meeting to work out procedures and modalities at the earliest. However, India has not waited for joint working group , to be set up to sort out the liberal visa regime issue, and has gone ahead unilaterally to simplify visa procedures for senior citizens, students, businessmen, medical patients and to promote tourism.

“There is no formal agreement between India and Bangladesh on the visa regime. As a step towards showing New Delhi’s commitment to joining hands with Dhaka in giving a boost to the economic prosperity of Bangladesh and its people, we have decided to adopt a liberal visa regime,” said India’s Ambassador to Bangladesh Pankaj Saran, who was speaking at the “India Show” organised by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and FICCI.

India at present gives nearly 500,000 visas to Bangladesh nationals every year. With the new visa regime in place, the figure is likely to witness a massive hike. India has already signed a liberal visa regime with Pakistan, introducing for the first time group tourist and pilgrim visas, multi-city and multi entry visa for businessmen, visa on arrival for senior citizens and other categories.

However, the visa regime with Pakistan is yet to be formally implemented. But in the case of Bangladesh, Mr. Saran said the India mission in Dhaka has decided to grant liberal visa permits to businessmen, artists and for tourism purposes. “Earlier, businessmen and other categories would get a five-day visa with a single entry condition. This was making it very difficult for even those people who have been dealing with Indian corporate world for the last two to three decades. Now we are granting a six-month multi-entry visa and even longer term visas to various categories including artists from Bangladesh that is going to make things smooth and easy.”

India is also looking to capitalise on the medical tourism concept and in view of its strong medical facilities seeking to tap a huge market of citizens of Bangladesh who would want to visit the country to seek medical treatment. Then there is another category which seeks to visit India with tourism purpose in mind. There is also another category that seeks to visit their near and dear ones in India.

“As promised, New Delhi is working to deepen the economic engagement with Dhaka. We want to ensure that citizens of Bangladesh, especially the youth of this country, get jobs and economic opportunity and for this we are promoting people to people contact and exchange of businessmen between the two countries at a greater level.”

Commerce Ministry Joint Secretary Arvind Mehta said his Ministry had been pushing for a liberal visa regime with not only Bangladesh, but with all SAARC nations and to become partners in their development. “It is a very encouraging development that Indian mission in Bangladesh has paved the way for smoother and liberal exchange between the people and economic of the two nations. It will help in promoting Bangladesh as a major investment destination for Indian business houses.”