Interior ministry wants say in visa issuance procedure

Embassies to seek ministry’s consent before issuing visas. PHOTO:

Embassies to seek ministry’s consent before issuing visas. PHOTO:

ISLAMABAD: The interior ministry wants to directly weigh in on granting or withholding visas to foreigners following the arrest of a blacklisted US citizen who managed to clear immigration at the Islamabad airport.

“Pakistan’s embassies abroad will be asked to first seek the [interior] ministry’s consent before a visa can be issued to a foreigner,” a ministry spokesman said on Sunday. He said an understanding had been reached in a high-level meeting chaired by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and attended by top officials of the interior ministry, police and the Federal Investigation Agency.

Blacklisted US ‘spy’ arrested in Islamabad

The meeting took place after US national Matthew Barrett — who was blacklisted and deported from Pakistan in 2011 — managed to clear the immigration process at

Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport on Saturday.

Although he managed to leave the airport after clearing immigration, FIA officials arrested him from a guesthouse in the federal capital a few hours later. They registered a case against him for violating Pakistani immigration laws and obtained his three-day remand from a magistrate.

In the aftermath of the episode, Interior Minister Nisar ordered top ministry officials to ascertain whether Barrett had gained entry into Pakistan because of negligence of officials or if there were other factors involved.

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The interior ministry officials, who were given just 24 hours to complete their inquiry, presented their report to Nisar during the meeting on Sunday. The report identified a visa official at Pakistan’s consulate in Houston as responsible for the incident, stating that the official issue Barrett a visa within 24 hours without checking his record. The Express Tribune also learnt that Barrett was issued a four-year visa.

The inquiry report also found FIA officials manning the Immigration Desk at the Islamabad airport guilty of negligence while clearing Barrett for entry.  According to the ministry spokesman, Nisar has directed FIA to devise a new policy framework for immigration to prevent such incidents in future.

The minister, meanwhile, announced a reward of Rs100,000 for Integrated Management System In-Charge Fahad Qayyum, who blew the whistle on Barrett’s illegal entry into Pakistan.

‘Too early to label spy’

The interior ministry spokesman said it is inappropriate and too early to declare Barrett a spy, clarifying that there was no mention of espionage among the charges under which the US citizen was deported from Pakistan in 2011. He also stressed that it is not proper to link the Barrett episode with events surrounding CIA contractor Raymond Davis.

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