The move, amidst the strained India-Pak relations, is in line with the Narendra Modi government's policy to help minorities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who come to India after facing alleged persecution in their home country. "The Ministry of Home Affairs granted long-term visas to 431 Pakistani nationals last month. They are from minority communities of that country," the official told PTI.
Under the latest policy of the Centre, those belonging to minority communities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, namely --Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians-- staying in India on long-term visas, are allowed to purchase a small dwelling unit sufficient to serve the needs of a family for self-use and suitable accommodation for carrying out self-employment.
However, they are barred from buying immovable property in and around restricted or protected areas, including cantonment regions.
Such communities are also allowed to obtain PAN cards, Aadhaar numbers and driving licences, take up self-employment or do business, and are allowed free movement within the state of their stay and transfer of long-term visa papers from one state to another.
The 431 Pakistani nationals with long-term visas will now also be able to open bank accounts without prior approval of the Reserve Bank of India.
The home ministry had also recently given security clearance to 1,800 Pakistani nationals of the Ahmadiyya community to attend the 123rd 'Jalsa Salana' at Qadian in Gurdaspur district of Punjab from December 29 to December 31. 'Jalsa Salana' is an annual gathering of the Ahmadiyya community.
No Pakistani national was given visa to attend the congregation last year, while 5,000 Pakistani nationals had attended the event in 2015.
The grant of long-term visas to a large number of Pakistanis and security clearance to Ahmadiyya community members of Pakistan were the highest in a single month in nearly two years, even as India-Pakistan relations nosedived after the January 2, 2016, terror attack in the Pathankot air base in which seven security personnel were killed.
The statement of Pakistani leadership eulogising Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani after his killing in Jammu and Kashmir in July 2016 further soured the relations between the neighbouring countries.
The home ministry had also approved over 4,000 visa applications of people belonging to Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and a few select countries in September. A total of 6,025 visa applications were received in September, out of which 4,057 were cleared, another home ministry official said.
Prior approval is required from the home ministry for issuing visas to nationals of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and a few other countries.
The Pakistani nationals, whose visa applications were approved, would be given the travel document mostly under the medical visa category.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has been prompt in responding to distress calls of Pakistani nationals seeking visas for medical emergencies.
These medical visas were sought by the Pakistani nationals for undergoing liver transplant surgeries, cancer treatment etc, in India.
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