When part of the world is struggling to clear the visa application clogs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic but Bhutan faces its own unique challenge with shortage of passport booklet.
By Sonam Deki
19,000 passports were issued in the last six month by the passport office and this was already signaling the government about the increasing trend of people seeking to travel abroad. From August 20, Passport Section, Ministry of Foreign Affairs started issuing Travel Document (green) after they ran out of Passport (Blue) booklets. The validity of passport is 10 years whereas travel document is valid only for 5 years. Since then, more than 8000 travel documents were issued.
As it was already confusing for people to understand the issuance of travel documents instead of passport, the recent incident of deportation from Nepal due to travel document made people even more doubtful.
However, the foreign minister clarified that the travel document is not the cause of the problem; rather this happened all because of Visa.
Bhutanese travelling to Nepal with standard passport could avail visa upon arrival but in the case of travel document holders, the prior visa was required before travelling. This requirement was not known to the travel document holders who travelled on August 25 and they were deported immediately from the Katmandu Airport, Nepal. Their pleas were not heeded by the Nepali Official and reported to have acted according to their country’s law.
One of the deportees said that this deportation cost them dearly, more than twenty thousand ngultrum and inconveniences. They don’t understand who they should appeal or hold accountable.
“We are still discussing with Druk air office about compensation should these passengers claim. We must help them as best as we can. We are also willing to pay for the tickets if those 7 passengers want to go back again”, said Dr. Tandin Dorji, Foreign Minister.
Following the deportation incident, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued Travel Advisory stating that all Bhutanese travelling on a travel document in lieu of ordinary passport to any other country should, before travelling check for visa procedures and requirements of documents to process visa to enter the country of destination. The Advisory also specifically mentions that those Bhutanese intending to travel to Nepal on a recently issued Travel Document in lieu of Ordinary Passport, should process for prior visa to enter Nepal from the Nepalese Embassy in New Delhi. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will assist those intending to visit Nepal in obtaining the required visa.
However the travel advisory also states that all concerned foreign governments are notified of the interim arrangement taken to facilitate the travel of Bhutanese abroad. In this regard, the minster updated that these countries have acknowledged to facilitate.
According to the immigration Act 2007, Chapter II, of clause 111 states, “Owners and operators of all modes of carriers and individuals who bring a foreigner into the Kingdom unlawfully shall be liable to bear all transportation and related costs for the deportation of that foreigner.” So far, these 7 deported passengers have not come forward with such claim, said Druk Air Office, Royal Bhutan Airline.
With this incident, people rumor that the ministry has stopped issuing travel document till the arrival of blue passport. However, the foreign minister clarified by saying that the Travel document would be used till the arrival of original passport and it would be restocked by October.