NEW DELHI, India – India’s Home Ministry has overruled the demand of External Affairs Ministry, which requested that biometrics of tourists visiting India be collected once they have arrived in the country and not at the visa application stage. Citing security concerns, Home Ministry officials said there was no letting-up on collection of biometrics (hand and face imprints) of international travellers who applied for an Indian visa.
Government has rolled out a project called ‘Immigration, Visa and Foreigners Registration & Tracking (IVFRT) system,’ which ensures collection of biometric details before any kind of visa is issued. Of the 178 Indian missions, only 55 have been equipped with this facility.
The exercise was mooted after the arrest of alleged Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorist David Coleman Headley facing trial in the 26/11 Mumbai blasts case. The government launched the project in 2012 to integrate and centralize details of visitors to India on a single platform to track movement of foreign nationals in India, biometrics being a key aspect. Since the project was implemented, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) informed the government that it would discourage foreign tourists from coming to India, owing to the tedious process involved. The Ministry of Tourism had also asked MHA to be do away with collection of biometrics as it discouraged tourists from applying for visa as the facility was not up-to-date at all the Indian missions abroad.
India presently gets 7.70 million foreign tourists accounting for 0.68 percent of the global international tourist movement. Officials believe that by doing away this system, they would be able to achieve one per cent of world tourism market share. Only those applying for electronic tourist visa (eTV) are exempted from giving their biometrics at the concerned mission, who have to record the details after their arrival in India. “In countries like USA or UK, where there are multiple consulates, it is still possible for a person to go and record the biometrics.
For smaller countries, where the facility is available only at one mission, it is a task to go and record the biometrics. What External Affairs Ministry has suggested is that the biometrics could be taken at the immigration desk once the passenger has arrived here. It does not make any sense, as we would not get enough time to check the antecedents and it would be difficult sending them back from here if anomalies are found,” said a senior official.
Tourism Secretary Lalit K Panwar recently wrote to MHA that the travel industry in the country, as well as globally, has been demanding that biometrics of tourists be taken only at the point of arrival in the country.