New Delhi: A Pakistani national could go to the website of India`s Ministry of Home Affairs, fill the online visa form, click submit, show the relevant documents to the local mission and get the visa.
That`s the idea at least - it has been applicable since April 1 - but not a single visa has been issued through this method yet.
The ministry had a very low profile launch, with no accompanying publicity - not surprisingly as several chinks have to be smoothened out before this becomes the preferred method of application for visa.
And India would very much like that, as it is designed to be the first step in the implementation of the ambitious mission mode project of Immigration, Visa and Foreigner Registration and Tracking (IVFRT).
This scheme, to cost around Rs 1,000 crore, plans to computerise the entire life cycle of a foreigner in India, right from the time they apply for a visa, stand in front of an immigration post, travel inside the country and eventually exit the borders.
Pakistan was chosen to be the first country to open the online visa process - with Bangladesh and the United Kingdom to be included by June 15.
Both these countries have the highest daily application numbers, with 2,000 visa forms submitted daily.
"It (online visa application) is the same system like Indian passport application. Public will apply online, submit the documents, which will be scanned and sent to India for verification," he said.
In fact, it is the last part - the verification of documents - that is a key part of the new online visa process.
For Pakistani citizens, the online visa process is not all good news, as it means they will have to provide an extra document for getting a visa - a letter from an Indian sponsor duly authorised by an Indian official.
"So far, a sponsor letter was not essential. But now the new online visa application form has mandatory columns to be filled with details of a sponsor in each city or place and also a list of Indian officials of certain ranks who can authenticate the invitation letter," a senior government official said, not wishing to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
This information will be then sent down to the police district, for verifying the authenticity of the sponsor. "The issuance of the visa will be based on the credentials of the sponsor," he said.
Naturally, this will increase the time for getting an Indian visa. "We are setting a target of 20 days from applying to issuing of visa," added another official.
The two-page online visa for Pakistani citizens is perhaps the most elaborate for any foreign national entering India, even in the special category of seven prior reference countries. In fact, it takes so long to be filled that technicians are giving a special feature for this form.
"We know that the Internet network is not very stable in Pakistan. So, we will ensure that the filled contents of the form are saved automatically after every few minutes," he said.
Incidentally, the Indian High Commission`s website displays an online form on its website since February, which Pakistanis could fill up and submit the printout to the High Commission. "We found that while 150-200 forms were filled up online, the rest about 300 forms were typed out on the normal form," he said.
The regular mode of filling a form manually and submitting it will continue to exist for some more time. In this case, the grant of visa is largely dependent on the discretion of the visa officer.
With no publicity, the MHA online visa form has so far not got any legitimate application. Even High Commission officials are still confused on how to incorporate it into the current work process.
Last week, the Home Ministry wrote to the High Commission to remove the earlier form and link to the newer version on the ministry`s website. The implementation of this simple step will, however, take a few days.
"As per instructions, we cannot send any sensitive orders to Pakistan through fax or e-mail, as they can be intercepted. All these are sent through diplomatic bags, which takes more time," he said.
Once all the processes are tested without any glitches, the Indian High Commission will publicise the new online application process, as well as guidelines on getting an authenticated sponsor letter.