Challenges before immigration policy in India

Laxity in current practices leads to criminals slipping through the net

Praveen Dixit | August 22, 2022


#Security   #crime   #terrorism   #immigration  
The 9/11 attack had an immigration angle too (Photo: By Michael Foran, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11785530)
The 9/11 attack had an immigration angle too (Photo: By Michael Foran, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11785530)

Several Indians want to go out and many foreigners intend to come in India and stay here. The good reasons for their desire to come to India include: India is gold mine of opportunities to improve, studies, medical and health purposes, employment, business and religion. There are also bad reasons. India is considered safe haven for fake currency notes, drugs transiting, illegal weapons smuggling and many other crimes.

Balancing between promoting tourism and ensuring only persons who would not harm national security are allowed entry is a big challenge. It is also necessary to ensure that they leave the country in time.
 
Immigration is a most dynamic policy: it undergoes change every year, with every visit of the prime minister abroad or with every visit of dignitary to India. In all the bilateral agreements, minimum is agreement on visa-free travel for diplomats and officials. The immigration policy is characterised by the dictum; tit for tat. You have policy as the other country treats your nationals. This was seen even during the Covid-119 period.

Internal security challenges before the country can be addressed if immigration measures are tightened:
Places around metros like Nala Sopara, Diva, near Mumbai, New Delhi or religious places like Pushkar, in Rajasthan or remote places in Lahaul Spiti in Himachal Pradesh, Aurobindo Ashram in Puducherry and Osho ashram in Pune have been made their second homes by foreigners from several countries including developed countries. Many of them have deliberately married Indians and their children are being cultivated as the nucleus for smuggling of drugs.

Foreigners coming to India for economic opportunities are of two types. A few of them come legally on valid travel documents. Their movement can be monitored. Many others from neighbouring countries are illegal entrants. They get merged in the local population. How to tackle these? This type of problem of foreigners coming to your country legally or illegally and refusing to leave is a problem in almost all countries which provide opportunity to prosper. Countries including USA, Japan, UK, Germany, and Australia all appear to be struggling to tackle it. What measures have they taken? Some countries have provided them secondary citizenship: they can vote for local self-government bodies, but they cannot participate in election at the national level. Others treat them as citizens for economic activities, they have to pay substantial amount as charges and they are free to do economic activity, but no civil rights. Indians in the US, for example, get the ‘green card’ after seven or many more years and then may be entitled for US citizenship. Australia provides this facility only if you are in a category of persons having qualifications that the country is facing a shortfall in, such as doctors, engineers, chartered accountants. Some other countries have provided for double citizenship.

India also needs to examine this issue seriously to come to terms with the issue of illegal influx of foreigners in the country. Today even remote districts in hinterland are having the influx of illegal foreigners and they have simply not disclosed their identity or have taken identity as Indian citizens. According to an estimate, the number is likely to be more than one crore.

Crimes against foreigners:

Crimes against foreigners may be technical in nature for violation of visa purpose or not doing extension in time. It may also include serious offences under the Indian Penal Code including property or body offences, indulging in drugs, smuggling, cyber crimes. Irrespective of the nature of offence, all of them should be deported immediately, blacklisted, and their entry should be banned through all check posts. At the time of arrest itself, procedure to identify the nationality of such person must be initiated, if the person does not have any citizenship documents.

Out of foreigners who have come to adverse notice, actually very few go out and the rest all manage to continue in India. Incorrect reading of the Foreigners Act has created this serious situation. In states, foreigners noticed adversely need to be deported, blacklisted and their entry banned through MHA.

The World Trade Center attacks have also brought into sharp focus the need to review our immigration policy.  Immigration control and measures fundamentally attempt to ensure national security by monitoring the movement of nationals of your country outside and arrival as well as stay of foreigners inside the country.  In the US, there is a full-fledged Department of Immigration and Naturalisation Service working to ensure anti-national elements do not enter the country. However, attacks on the WTC are indicative that existing policies and procedures have allowed terrorists to slip into the country unfettered.

Immigration experts, on the other hand, point out that if there is a lesson from the strikes for the immigration policy, it is that the nation's intelligence and enforcement efforts failed, not its immigration laws, which ban admission of anyone with criminal histories or suspected ties to terrorist organisations.  “We do need greater scrutiny of people crossing our borders,” said Kathleen Newland, co-director of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. “But we don't need to stop people from crossing our borders.” (The Times of India, September 19, 2001). It is a well-known fact that the US admission procedures are most stringent and obtaining a US visa is considered as a carte blanche for entry in almost any other country. Even then, Senator Jon Jyl (R-Ariz) remarked, “We have known for a long time that we have an immigration problem that is being taken advantage of by terrorists. Reality is, we have never paid as much attention to that as we should have.” (The Times of India, September 19, 2001). One must appreciate this frankness in the US policy.

How does India compare with this picture? We have a practice here that arriving foreigners are given top priority in clearance and any effort to interview them about their purpose of visit is immediately frowned upon as discourteous behaviour. The net result is that foreigners having a shady history and unable to reach their target countries are able to use India as a country of transit. They are also able to sneak into the country and indulge in narco-terrorism or smuggling of arms and many other anti-national activities.

Illegal stay by foreigners and violation of visa rules that does not attract penal action is another area of serious concern. The Bureau of Immigration needs to be provided support in terms of computer networking between all immigration check-posts as well as with all foreigners’ registration officers (superintendents of police), if it is to be effective and able to deliver the desired results. Absence of updating of visadex (black list) by security agencies and enforcement officers is being exploited by the criminals to the hilt. Easy departure of the Memon brothers from Mumbai airport after the serial bomb blasts in 1993 emphasises this point.

Secondly, porous borders in the north-east and between India and Nepal need immediate attention as they continue to provide easy access to terrorists. Issuing of genuine Indian passports to foreigners including Sri Lankans, Afghans, Bangladeshis and nationals of the countries in the Middle East as well as criminals in the country underlines the need to plug the loopholes, which include corrupt practices by the concerned.

The current practice by Indian immigration authorities of examining documents of departing foreigners and arriving Indians is not only without any logic but also results in waste of valuable man-hours and dilution of the entire purpose behind immigration control measures. Immigration authorities in the developed world do not follow this practice. If any enforcement authority requires a departing foreigner, his details can always be shared with the airline authorities and he can be intercepted. Similarly, if an arriving Indian were required, he would be in the country and can always be hauled up at any time. Are the authorities prepared to make modifications in their outdated practice and streamline it to focus on terrorist interception?

Vested interests insisting on continuation of the current practice, which provides excellent breeding ground for corrupt practices, need to be effectively tackled. The proposed Bureau of Immigration can function effectively if it takes help of distance learning methodology for training the immigration officers posted at far-off places including air-ports, land check-posts, and sea-ports.

Registration of foreigners is done by FROs working in districts. There is urgent need for constant training to these officers. Preparation of SOP should be given priority and efforts should be made to constantly updating it. Youth emigrating the country and joining ISIS should ring alarming bells to all concerned with national security. Earlier there have been several instances of some Punjabi youth indulging in  illegal immigration and dying in hundreds at the coast of Greece. Human trafficking continues to be a major challenge. It involves several international agents operating from several countries. It is a multi-million dollar business. Many immigration officers have come in trouble because of this malpractice. Every year, thousands of girls go missing in India. A section of them must be finding place in other countries, being forced in prostitution.

Let me sum up major challenges before India immigration:

1) Networking with all stake holders in India and abroad
Stakeholders: All district SsP,CsP, state governemnts, Indian missions, governments of other countries, carriers including airlines, cruise, bus services

2) Dissemination of updated rules, regulations, modus operandi of criminals

3) Dialogue with judiciary particularly High Court, Supreme Court

4) Constant research in other countries about the rules regulations, practices, equipment, innovations such as e passport.

5) Speedy disposal of cases and follow-up. Deporting of foreigners and establishing of detention centres in selected places

6) Sympathetic attitude towards persons being persecuted due their religious identity

7) Availability of precise information of foriegners as well as Indians abroad

8) Clearance of persons quickly at immigration checkposts, but detaining a few who are suspects.

Praveen Dixit, an IPS officer, retired as DGP of Maharashtra.

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