India and Pakistan Saturday signed an agreement that will ease the visa restrictions on people from both countries.
The agreement was signed between Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, who is on a three-day visit to Pakistan.
"This is the sign of friendship," Malik said after the signing ceremony. Before the signing of the agreement, Krishna held talks with his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar.
Thanks to the agreement, senior citizens, aged 65 and above, in India and Pakistan can now walk across the border between the two countries and need not go through the hassles of getting a visa from embassies in New Delhi and Islamabad.
Senior citizens will be granted visas on arrival at the Attari and Wagah border in India and Pakistan respectively.
There was no such provision available for senior citizens of both countries. Under the new arrangement, senior citizens will be granted a visa on arrival valid for 45 days.
"The senior citizens can visit the other country easily now," a source said here.
Many senior citizens in the two countries have been witness to the 1947 partition in which millions of people were uprooted after India's independence and Pakistan's creation.
The new visa regime will see several changes aimed at easing controls.
There will be a single-entry visitor visa for a maximum period of six months but the stay cannot exceed three months at a time and for five places (currently limited to three places).
Group tourist visas, for groups of 10-50 people, has also been introduced for the first time. This will also be available for students provided they do not seek admission in the other country.
Also, the business visa has been separated from the visitor visa, a communique said.
The business visa will have to be issued within five weeks.
People aged more than 65, children below 12 and eminent businessmen are exempted from police reporting.
Another simplified rule will allow people to enter and exit from different check posts and change their mode of travel. This was not permitted earlier.
"However, this is subject to the exception that exit from Wagah/Attari, by road (on foot) cannot be accepted, unless the entry was also by foot via Attari/Wagah," the communique said.
Under a new category, a visitor visa for a maximum of five specified places may be issued for a longer period of up to two years with multiple entries to senior citizens (above 65); spouse of a national of one country married to person of another country and children below 12 accompanying parent(s).
Also, a transit visa will now be issued within 36 hours instead of 72 hours.
Under the existing visa agreement, the single entry visa is issued for three months for meeting relatives, friends, business or other legitimate purposes. However, the visa can be issued for a longer period not exceeding a year owing to the nature of work or business.