IANS | 14 Aug, 2013
SAARC countries Tuesday began discussing visa liberalisation within the member states, a top official said.
The discussion was held at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Secretariat in Kathmandu.
The SAARC visa exemption scheme was launched in 1992 after leaders at their fourth summit in Islamabad in December 1988 realised the importance of having people-to-people contact among the member countries.
They decided that certain categories of people should be entitled to a special travel document that would exempt them from visas within the region.
Currently the list includes 24 categories, including dignitaries, judges of higher courts, parliamentarians, senior officials, businessmen, journalists and sportsmen.
The fifth SAARC summit held in November 1990 in the Maldives decided to launch the visa exemption scheme.
A meeting of immigration authorities in Male in September 2012 recommended the convening of the Core Group of Immigration and Visa Experts to consider new categories for the exemption.
The ongoing two-day Core Group meeting has brought together experts from all eight member states of the SAARC group in a bid to expand the scope of the exemption scheme.
"The presence of delegates from all the member states not only signifies the importance of this meeting, but also augurs well for its success, paving the way for the smooth functioning of the SAARC Visa Exemption Scheme," said SAARC Secretary General Ahmed Saleem.
"You would agree with me that considered as a milestone in the history of SAARC, the scheme, that became operational in 1992, has enormous potential in enhancing people-to-people contact in the region," he said.
"Though there are presently only 24 categories of entitled people, the list is bound to grow with the passage of time in the larger interest of our association," the secretary general said.
In the past, India and Pakistan were concerned over several proposals of visa liberalisation due to security issues.
The Asian Development Bank and SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industries have prepared a draft proposal for expansion of the visa exemption scheme within the regional grouping.
A meeting of experts will be convened at the Secretariat, immediately after the core group's meeting, to consider the establishment of the SAARC Immigration Liaison Network, a proposal mooted by the Maldives.