With The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, stuck in Parliament, the government recently cleared the proposal for granting long-term visa (LTV) to minorities from Afghanistan seeking refuge in India. The Home Ministry has also liberalised norms for visa and residential permits for other nationals from Afghanistan, signalling further strengthening of ties between the two neighbours.
After the NDA came to power, visa rules for minorities from Pakistan, who fled the country owing to religious persecution, were relaxed and cases, including those of “extreme compassion”, were approved for LTV, which means visa (with conditions) for five years. In 2015, the Centre further relaxed the rules and this time, non-Muslims from Bangladesh were included in the scheme.
However, there was no clear policy for minorities from Afghanistan and they were dealt on a case-to-case basis, said officials, adding that minorities from Afghanistan include Sikhs and non-Muslims who have been subjected to religious persecution. When contacted, Home Ministry spokesperson Ashok Prasad declined to comment since the Afghan visa policy is “classified”.
According to estimates, there are more than 6,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan who want to return to India. “The decision on LTV was taken after government received numerous representations regarding restrictions faced by minorities from Afghanistan, seeking refuge in India. The government could have overcome these hurdles if the amendment in citizenship Act, which has been before Parliament since 2016, was cleared. It would have helped minorities from neighbouring countries stay here without any legal document,” an official said.
Besides LTV for minorities, the government is believed to have further liberalised the visa policy for all Afghan nationals. The decision, significantly, comes at a time when Pakistan is imposing visa restrictions on Afghan nationals. Sources said the validity of a tourist visa is being enhanced to one year with a continuous stay of 90 days during each visit, as against 30 days earlier. Norms for student and business visas are also being eased, an official added.