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Biometrics data to be collected from foreign visitors to India


Foreign nationals visiting India as tourists or working may soon have their biometrics data collected. India will pilot the project in its consulates in the United States, United Kingdom and Pakistan.

A senior government official, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “We are planning to kick-start a pilot project in these three countries within three months.”

Visitor arrivals in India topped 6.4 million in 2011, an increase of 12.12 percent over 2010. The U.S. and U.K. topped the most number of visitors that entered India.

Security is the main reason for implementing new biometric visa procedures.

The new system will generate profiles and identify suspicious travelers. It will also send out alerts on those that overstayed or failure on part of any traveler to register with Foreigners Regional Registration Officers (FRROs) at India’s Bureau of Immigration.

The November 2008 attack in Mumbai left an impression of how susceptible India is when it comes to terrorist attacks. The Indian government investigated whether Syed Zabiuddin Ansari, alias Abu Jundal, an Indian arrested in connection with the bombing in Mumbai in November 2008, had entered India on Pakistani passports. It was found that Jundal held two Pakistani passports and was believed to have entered India many times and suspected to be involved in many terrorist plots.

In another incident, an accused U.S. national of Pakistani origin, David Colelam Headley, was found to have visited India eight times to carry out surveillance of potential targets before the Mumbai attacks.

The cabinet committee on economic affairs cleared this biometric project in March 2010 as an immediate measure in securing its country’s critical or entry points. Just two months ago, Home Minister P. Chidambaram inaugurated the immigration, visa and foreigners registration and tracking project to eventually cover 176 Indian missions, 80 immigration checkpoints and 10 foreign regional registration offices in two years’ time.

According to India’s Home Ministry: “Once this biometrics system is in place, it would be nearly impossible for anyone to enter India on fake passports or forged papers. An individual’s biometrics will be collected at the Indian missions abroad and then matched upon arrival in India.”

Furthermore there will be an online registration of foreigners at the time of grant of visa. The system will update itself when a foreigner enters or leaves the country. Biometrics will be an added advantage to verify real travelers. The centralized system will provide this information to all concerned intelligence and law enforcement agencies on real-time basis.

There were concerns raised that the project could affect the flow of visitors to India.

“People have raised objections on the grounds that most people abroad get Indian visas through travel agents. So they will not take the extra pain of getting their biometrics recorded. Also, there is another belief that since Indian immigration officials are not very friendly, the new system might create fresh troubles for genuine travelers,” an unnamed official said. “These differences have been sorted out and we are expecting to launch this in three months. The U.S. and the U.K. already have this system and we should not have any difficulty implementing it. Pakistan was chosen for security reasons.”

India is also extending scrutiny of visitors from Afghanistan and Iran.

Do you think India’s move to install biometrics system for U.K and U.S. visitors will affect tourism?

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