From clearer visa rules to to LCD television and air-conditioner in waiting rooms for foreign students, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has set the process rolling for India’s first comprehensive restructuring of the infrastructure and procedures governing nearly 30,000 foreign students pursuing higher education in the country.
As part of the exercise, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has told the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to set an outer limit for clearing research visas that involves visits to sensitive areas or dealing with complex socio-political subjects.
If MHA, or the inter-ministerial committee, fails to take a decision within this time frame, the principle of deemed approval would apply, according to fresh guidelines to be issued over the next few days.
The PMO’s initiative is based on the recommendations of the committee set up last year under Indian Council for Cultural Relations chief Pawan Varma last year.
The PMO wants the MHA to extend provisional registration on arrival, allow students to go home at least thrice in an academic year and create an interactive website that allows students to fix a prior appointment at the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO). It also wants the MHA to enable smooth access to senior officers in case of grievance and clear cases of transfer of university within 15-60 days.
“FRRO should upgrade infrastructure to make a student’s wait during clearance of procedures comfortable. For example, offices should provide AC lounges with LCD televisions as well as notice boards that display rules and regulations,” a PMO note said.
The PM has been concerned at the bureaucratic delays, lack of factual information and infrastructure, besides the government’s leave-to-fend-for-themselves approach towards foreign students.
Singh, who had travelled to the United Kingdom in the mid-1950s to study at Oxford and returned with memories that he still cherishes, wanted to ensure that foreign students in India too go back with equally pleasant memories.
A PMO official said instructions had been sent to four ministries, including MHA, HRD ministry and the External Affairs Ministry, apart from universities.