India and Pakistan on Saturday signed the much-awaited liberalised visa agreement, introducing for the first time group tourist and pilgrim visas, separate visa for businessmen and visa on arrival for those over 65 years of age.
The new pact, signed between external affairs minister SM Krishna and Pakistan interior minister Rehman Malik, replaces a 38-year-old restrictive visa agreement and will pave the way for time-bound visa approval and greater people to people contacts and boost trade.
While there was no time-frame for issuance of non-diplomatic visas, the new pact says that visa has to be issued with a period of not exceeding 45 days of application.
Under the new regime, one can visit five places instead of the three at present and those above 65 years of age and children below 12 years of age and "eminent" businessmen are exempted from police reporting.
Under the category of visitor visa, earlier only single entry visa for three months used to be issued for meeting relatives, friends, business or other legitimate purpose. Moreover, visa could be only issued for longer period not exceeding one year if owing to the nature of work or business.
Under the new pact, single entry visa is to be issued for six months but stay should not exceed three months at a time and for five places.
Under a new Category II, a visitor visa for a maximum five specified places may be issued for a longer period, up to two years with multiple entries to senior citizens (those above 65 years), spouses of a national of one country married to a person of another country and children below 12 years of age accompanying parents as given earlier.
The new group tourist visa will be issued for not less than 10 people and not more than 50 people. This visa will be valid for 30 days and will have to be applied through tour operators, registered by the two governments.
The much-awaited India, Pakistan new visa regime has come into effect. Here is a comparison between the existing and new agreements: