In a development signaling a possible strain in ties between the ‘all-weather allies’, Pakistan has decided to tighten the relaxed visa regime, especially for Chinese citizens visiting Pakistan on business or work-related visas. According to Pakistani media, Chinese nationals seeking business visas would now have to present an invitation from a recognised body at any of Pakistan’s missions in China. The ministry has also decided to discourage long-term visa extensions for Chinese citizens, they said.
The development comes close on the heels of the abduction and murder of two Chinese nationals in Balochistan, who Islamabad said were preaching Christianity in violation of their business visas. Dawn reported that the decision was arrived at during a meeting on Wednesday, chaired by interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan who directed ministry officials to plug all loopholes to ensure maximum transparency.
The Interior secretary, the advocate general, the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) chairman, the Immigration and Passport (IMPASS) DG, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs DG and other senior officials of the interior ministry and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) attended the meeting, it said.
Under the new rules, business visas and visas-upon-arrival would only be granted to Chinese nationals once they produce invitations or assignment letters. That is not all. The letters would then have to be certified and endorsed by a recognised chamber of commerce and industry, and accompanied by a letter from commercial attachés and other designated officers of Pakistan posted abroad for the promotion of business activities. The government said the decision was meant to ensure transparency and see to it that there is no misuse of the visa-friendly regime between the two countries.
Additionally, regional passport offices no longer have the powers to issue visa extension. The meeting also saw a decision to withdraw their powers with immediate effect. Only Pakistan’s immigration office at Islamabad will have the powers to grant business visa extensions. Even Pakistani embassies and missions in China will now be allowed to issue only one-year multiple-entry work visas for Chinese nationals coming to Pakistan to work on projects. These too will be issued only after the Pakistani mission receives security clearance from Chinese authorities.
ISIS had taken responsibility for the kidnap and murder of the two Chinese nationals, much to the displeasure of Beijing which directed Pakistan to take more effective steps to deal with the security of its nationals living in the Islamic country. Pakistan currently hosts a sizable Chinese population, thanks to China’s ambitious China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and the numbers are slated to only grow as the project progresses. Last year, a Chinese engineer was injured in a bomb attack in southern Pakistan and a separatist group, the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they were targeting the CPEC.