Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saarc nod to multi-entry, multi-city visa

In season 2012, Indian Premier League franchisees can bid for Pakistani players without having to worry about visas.

The eight Saarc countries today approved a liberalised visa regime for 22 categories of professionals, including select sportspersons.

Of these, 19 categories will not need to apply for visas and will instead be able to travel on Saarc stickers. The stickers will be pasted on passports after the necessary checks and clearances.

These will allow unfettered travel through India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

Diplomats, MPs, people working on Saarc projects and NGO representatives are among those covered by the visa exemption scheme that will come into force soon.

Their travel will not be limited to specific cities, no police reporting will be required and they will not need to fill up extra forms on entry in any of the eight countries, according to the decision taken by the Saarc Council of Ministers at Thimphu today.

The three categories — select sportspersons, journalists and businesspersons — who will need visas will be granted multi-entry, multi-city 90-day visas. They, too, will be exempt from police reporting.

However, given India’s and Pakistan’s fears about “undesirable” people from across the border entering their territory, the regional forum agreed that the visas and visa stickers would be granted at the discretion of the foreign ministries concerned.

The stickers will be issued within 10 days of application.

Saarc member countries also agreed to expedite pending decisions for smoother functioning of the South Asian University.

The governing body of the university, set up in Delhi, will meet early next month to set in motion the appointments to its steering committee and firm up rules and regulations, sources said.

The university president will be selected from India, with the Union government expected to nominate three persons of whom one will be chosen by the governing board.

The university’s first academic session started in August 2010 with 50 students.

Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao urged the Saarc countries to nominate their members to the university’s governing board at the earliest.

Some countries that are yet to ratify the agreement on setting up the university should also do so at the earliest, Rao added.

The Saarc meeting, which concluded today, approved India’s proposal to set up the South Asian Forum to suggest ways to increase regional trade.

The forum will include members from government, academia and industry.

The steering committee set up for the purpose will meet in Male, possibly next month, to take the proposal forward.

The meeting also stressed the need to take further steps on the South Asian Free Trade Area. Ministers of the eight member countries will meet in Maldives in May to discuss steps to increase trade.

Intra-Saarc trade has crossed the $1billion mark but has enormous potential to grow further, the ministers agreed.


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