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January 3, 2021

Over 14,000 visas extended unlawfully: ‘Investigation into security nightmare gathering dust’

Top Story

January 3, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Interior’s inquiry team probing into Pakistan's massive visa scam has asked NAB to conduct a wide ranging probe into issuing visas to around 14,000 foreigners who allegedly got their travel documents processed by submitting either bogus, suspicious, forged, invalid, fake or incomplete credentials in the past three years.

The inquiry conducted by a senior officer of the Ministry of Interior (MoI) has alarmed the government that "the biggest visa scam has not only endangered the national security but has also put the reputation of the state institutions at stake." "This [visa scam] is a fit case to be forwarded to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to dig out the extent of the official network, their corruption and most importantly to trace the assets and examine their lifestyle improvements," recommended the inquiry report prepared by Khalid Rasool, Joint Secretary Ministry of Interior.

Earlier, the spokesman for the MoI said, “inquiry has been referred to FIA and not to the NAB. The FIA has been directed by MoI to complete the investigation soon into the visa scam,” added the spokesman. The FIA has been directed to conduct “forensic examination of letters from the MoI granting NOC for business visas categories from Jan 2018 to Feb 2020. The probe would cover all cases where extensions were granted to visas of all categories by IMPASS based at Lahore, Islamabad, Multan, Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi at their own as the MoI can grant six month extensions," read the report, exclusively available with The News/Geo News.

Informed officials of MoI said multiple inquiries were to held to probe into this biggest visa scam but the one conducted by Jt Secretary alone recommended wide scale action against the entire network by identifying over two dozen specific officials. This was submitted to the former Minister for Interior Brig. (retd) Ijaz Shah who wanted a severe action against the responsible officers,” a senior official told this correspondent. “But later on the issue was hushed up due to sensitivity as it involved foreign nationals working in Pakistan,” he said while seeking anonymity. The security nightmare now seems to have been brushed under the carpet and the usual hush, hush prevails about it. It now appears that the MoI neither wanted to bring the findings into limelight nor wanted to take action against the officials involved in the scam, he added. On the contrary, the FIA was assigned in Sept 2020 to investigate and hold inquiry into the security nighmare is yet to come out with any conclusive report. In fact overnight another disturbing issue was highlighted when directions were given to Joint Secretary Ministry Khalid Rasool to report immediately to the Establishment Division.

The report also recommended across the board inquiry with a larger mandate to investigate all the cases of extensions granted on visas of all categories by the IMPASS at their own and also on the recommendations of MoI in the last five years.

According to the report, the letters were issued by the then section officer (PE-III). They were embossed by a machine available only with the MoI and they were marked by hand written fake impose numbers. In many cases when the authenticity was reconfirmed, the section officer would claim that the letter is fake and outrightly deny issuing any letter whereas a majority of cases were processed by the passport offices, revealed the report prepared in September 2020.

It is a matter of grave concern that all the fake letters unearthed till date bear the signatures of a lady visa officer, despite the fact that there are three other sections which deal with other categories of visas and none of their letters tuned out to be fake, stated the report.

The MoI virtually did nothing to ascertain the veracity of companies applying for the extensions of individual foreigners. The News/ Geo News got exclusive access to a highly confidential communications between the MoI, Directorate General of Immigration and Passports and FIA, which reveals that over two dozen officials committed gross violation of country’s visa policy by processing over 14,000 visa applications (visit, business and work) jeopardizing the vital security interests. The “business visas have become more of a racket or mafia working for promoting interests of foreigners in Pakistan. Cases were also identified where visa/ visa extensions were given without any verification, nor the credentials of foreign applicants were checked against the blacklist. The officer of the relevant section in utter disregard of the policy extended visas whimsically to facilitate foreigners with doubtful credentials.

According to the report. as many as 13,671 visa extensions were processed in the last one year from Lahore alone. A random check of about 6,000 applications suggested that visa policy and rules were flouted to issue the extensions,” revealed the confidential communications between FIA, MoI and DPI in recent months. “Original references (visa extensions advices) were found missing from the record. The format, contents and grammar of the letters for visa extension are sufficient to prove that they were not authentic."

Despite inquiries and their reports regarding the large network of specific officials behind the security lapse, only some of the MoI, FIA and DGPI officials including the two female officers were directed to report back to the Establishment Division, transferred or suspended. Instead, the Joint Secretary Ministry of Interior, Khalid Rasool, who came out with the hard hitting report and recommended action again Director Passport Lahore and the visa officers been asked, to report Establishment Division without assigning any reasons while the FIA Director Islamabad continues to drag on the inquiry pending since September 2020.