The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Friday gave consent for an extension in a special category visa that had expired for 410 Hindu refugees left stranded in Pakistan. The MHA made the submission before the Jodhpur Bench of Rajasthan High Court during a hearing of a petition regarding issues and problems of refugees from Pakistan.
This comes as a major relief for the immigrants who were staying in India on long-term visa (LTV) and had gone to the neighbouring nation for a short trip on the special NORI visa before the national coronovirus-induced lockdown was first imposed in March this year.
The NORI visa allows LTV holders with no Indian citizenship to travel to Pakistan and return within 60 days.
“Due to the lockdown, the 410 people got stranded there as the visa period of 60 days expired”, said Hindu Singh Sodha, President of Seemant Lok Sangathan, a welfare organisation for such refugees.
During the previous hearing on August 19, the high court was apprised of the plight of stranded NORI visa holders in Pakistan and had sought a reply from the the Centre about helping them come to India.
The MHA, in its reply to the court through its counsel, said, “It has been decided that return visa in respect of such LTV holding Pakistani nationals, who had gone to Pakistan on NORI visa before the lockdown and stranded there due to travel restrictions, may be treated as deemed extended for a period up to 15 days from the date on which travel restrictions from Pakistan to India are lifted by the GoI”.
The extension of the NORI visa will help the stranded immigrants to register with the High Commission of India (HCI) in Islamabad with all supporting documents that would enable the MHA to take up the matter with security agencies.
The HCI in Islamabad will have to intimate the MHA with the names and particulars of all such Pakistani nationals, who register with them for return visa extension.
The visa extension will be stamped on their passports at Attari border in Punjab on their arrival, where they will be tested for coronavirus after entering India.
The issue had hit the headlines in July when one such Hindu refugee, Janta Mali, had gone to visit her ailing mother in Mirpur Khas, Pakistan in February on NORI visa with her husband and children, but was not allowed to return later due to the expiry of her visa. She got stranded there while her husband and children, who are Indian citizens, travelled back to India.
Two shuttle services were rolled out after lifting of lockdown curbs for the return of the immigrants in July, but these 410 refugees had been left out due to expiry of their visa period.