Foreigners availing Research Visa to undergo strict scrutiny

The recent revelation by Amnesty International India researcher Christine Mehta that she was charged with ‘visa violations’ and deported from India in November 2014 for pursuing research on the violation of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir without securing clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs is likely to herald a tightening of the restraints on foreigners keen to pursue research in India.

Foreigners intending to work in NGOs, carry out research work on human rights and environment issues will now have to face stricter scrutiny of their visa applications after detection of several incidents of alleged misuse of these provisions. Foreign nationals “whose research work involves visits to ‘Restricted’ or ‘Protected’ areas in India etc. or involves politically and socially sensitive subjects” must apply for, and come to India on, a research visa that the MHA and Ministry of External Affairs will vet to ensure the “national interest” will not be compromised by their topic or methodology.

The move came after Home Ministry found that Research Visas, given to professors, scholars and participants to do research work and attend research conferences, are being allegedly misused by several foreigners in recent past.

“All research visa applications will be thoroughly scrutinised. An applicant has to submit a brief note in advance about the project in which the research work will be conducted. If we find it appropriate, non-controversial and beneficial to India, then only the applicant will be given a visa,” a senior Home Ministry official said.

Christine Mehta, reportedly did not submit her research subject to the authorities beforehand. Unhappy over her work, government deported Mehta in November 2014.

Several foreigners had worked in NGOs, including Greenpeace India, and were alleged to have been involved in anti-government activities. Home Ministry has found that many of the foreigners come to India on Tourist Visa and later get involved in research works and NGOs dealing with environment and human rights issues.

“Such trends have to be stopped. We will not allow anyone misusing the tourist visa provisions too,” the official said.

However, genuine researchers will not have to face difficulty if the project is to be done under an Indian institution accredited by the University Grants Commission. Visa applications of foreign scholars who take scholarships from Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) for conducting research will also be processed without any difficulty. The ICCR offers scholarships namely General Cultural Scholarship Scheme, Silver Jubilee Nepali Scholarship, Africa Scholarships, Commonwealth Scholarship Scheme etc.

According to an estimate, around 42,000 foreign students study in India of which nearly 3,800 are research scholars. Most of the foreign students belong to Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Iran.