India, U.S. Working On Pact To Exempt Certain People From Immigration Checks

India and the U.S. are working on a pact that will exempt a certain category of Indians, like former Presidents, Prime Ministers and other “high dignitaries”, big industrialists and some film stars, from immigration checks in America.

Top immigration officials of the two countries recently held a meeting for implementation of the Global Entry, a US Customs and Border Protection programme that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travellers upon arrival in the United States.

The meeting discussed what categories of people from India could be exempted from the immigration checks in the US, sources said. In this context, the names of former President Pratibha Patil, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, industrialists Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani and film stars Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan were specifically mentioned, they said.

Significantly, Shahrukh was once detained at a US airport because his name resembled that of somebody on the watchlist. “The US has been pressing for India’s inclusion in the Global Entry so that high dignitaries, frequent flyers and top industrialists could visit America without any hassle,” a source said.

Individuals included in the list enter the US through automatic kiosks at select airports. At airports, programme members proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport or US permanent resident card, place their fingerprints on the scanner for fingerprint verification and complete a customs declaration.

The kiosk issues the traveller a transaction receipt and directs the traveller to baggage claim and the exit. Two foremost criteria for inclusion of the Global entry programme for any individual is that he or she should not have any criminal record or anyway connected with any money laundering case.

So far, citizens of seven countries are getting benefits of America’s Global Entry programme. The countries are The Netherlands, Panama, South Korea, Germany, Peru, Mexico, Canada. Brazil and India are likely to be part of the programme next year.

“Discussions are continuing. We expect it to kick off for Indian citizens some time in next year. If the programme becomes successful, the list would be enhanced,” the sources said. India proposes to prepare a list, which will initially have around 2,000 individuals like top industrialists, film stars, former occupants of high ranking posts and frequent flyers, the sources said.

Every applicant will have to go through a rigorous background check by Indian security agencies before sending the name to the US authority which will give the final nod after again doing a thorough background check.

Security agencies will keep doing background check of every individual included in the list periodically and if any adverse report comes in-between, the individual will be removed from the list, they said. However, even in case someone is removed from the elite list, such person can still enter USA but will have to go through the routine processes.

The idea behind the Global Entry programme is to reduce pressure on US immigration officials as they would have no role if anyone carrying the machine-readable passport arrives at the designated airports.

The official said in later phases, the government would launch a dedicated website where any Indian can apply online to be included for the programme. Travellers must be pre-approved for the Global Entry program. All applicants undergo a rigorous background check and in-person interview before enrolment.

While Global Entry’s goal is to speed travellers through the process, members may still be selected for further examination when entering the United States. Any violation of the program’s terms and conditions will result in the appropriate enforcement action and termination of the traveller’s membership privileges. As of December 2014, Global Entry was available at 42 US airports and 12 preclearance locations.

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