21 Aug 2020: Pakistani Hindu immigrants seeking Indian citizenship stranded amid COVID-19 pandemic
These Pakistani nationals—living in India on long-term visas to receive Indian citizenship—had gone back to Pakistan briefly for visiting families, renewing passports/identity documents, or other purposes just before the lockdown and are stuck there with no permission to travel.
Details: More than 500 Pakistani Hindu immigrants stranded in Pakistan
Notably, most of them hold No Obligation to Return to India (NORI) visas—issued to Pakistanis/Bangladeshis living in India for a long-time due to marriage or atrocities against minorities in their home countries.
An immigrant: Immigrants not allowed to return to India as they’re Pakistanis
Among the stranded Hindu immigrants is 32-year-old Janta Mali who went to Pakistan in February, along with her husband and children, to visit her ailing mother in Mirpur Khas.
Her husband and kids, who are Indian citizens, returned to India through a shuttle service for those stranded on both sides of the India-Pakistan border in June-end. However, Janta, a Pakistani, wasn’t permitted to travel.
NORI visa: Janta’s NORI visa expired during the lockdown period
Janta, married to an Indian citizen, has been living in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur since 2007 on a long-term visa (LTV).
However, she wasn’t allowed to return to India along with her family as her NORI visa, which was issued before her travel in February, has expired during the lockdown.
The NORI visa, a facility available to LTV holders, has a validity of only 60 days.
HC hearing: Issue of Pakistani Hindu immigrants raised in Rajasthan HC
Like Janta, many Pakistani Hindu immigrants, who visited their home country before the lockdown, are now stranded there due to the expiry of their NORI visa.
The issue of these immigrants was also raised in the Rajasthan High Court by amicus curiae Sajjan Singh Rathore on August 19, during a hearing on the 2017 suo moto case concerning deportation of Pakistani minority community members.
Situation: Many stranded due to expiry of NORI visa: Rathore
“Due to the expiry of the (NORI) visa and closure of international routes, many people are stranded in Pakistan,” Rathore told the Rajasthan HC.
He said the NORI visas of Pakistani Hindu immigrants, who went to Pakistan before the lockdown, weren’t extended by the Indian Government.
The high court has even sought a response from the Central and state governments on the matter.
Eligibility: Immigrants’ eligibility for Indian citizenship now in jeopardy?
Many Pakistani Hindus immigrate to India in order to escape religious persecution and stay in the country on LTVs until they are eligible for Indian citizenship.
However, their extended stay in Pakistan now, due to the COVID-19 lockdown, might jeopardize their eligibility for Indian citizenship, according to Hindu Singh Sodha, President of Seemant Lok Sangthan, which works to help Pakistani Hindus get Indian citizenship.
Statement: Their NORI visas should be extended: Sodha
“The period of NORI is 60 days. If they do not return in these 60 days, their NORI gets expired and they have to apply fresh for the visas,” explained Sodha.
“When this happens, their previous stay in India will not be counted for grant of citizenship. Their NORI visas should be extended and they should be allowed to return to India,” he added.